The county police found evidence involving a man in a number of burglaries. As a result, the said man was indicted for the crime of burglary in the third degree and two counts of grand larceny in the third degree. The man also faced a charge of petit larceny.
After an unsuccessful attempt of the man to controvert the search warrant, he pleaded guilty to two counts of petit larceny, in full satisfaction of all the criminal charges in the indictment. He also pleaded guilty to the petit larceny charge.
Subsequently, the single issue presented for the court’s consideration is whether there was probable cause to support the issuance of the search warrant.
Based on records, the police officer who applied for the warrant based his application entirely upon the sworn statement of one witness. The witness’ affidavit was annexed to the warrant application. The first paragraph of the affidavit was consisted entirely of statements shedding light on the witness’ personal information. Further, the witness averred that he was 18 years old, single, unemployed, and that he resided with his parents. He also set forth his home telephone number. The rest of the affidavit recited personal observations that he had made and a report of statements he heard while at the man’s beach residence. The witness stated that while he was there with the man and the man’s brother, they went into the bedroom to drink beer and listen to stereo music. He observed that there was a safe in the bedroom. The man told the witness that he and three others had ripped off a house and had stolen the safe. The man opened the safe, and a third individual, removed a shoebox half full of grass of marijuana. The witnesses observed that there were also some fireworks inside the safe. The man was apparently quite proud of his criminal activity and told the witness that the stereo equipment in the bedroom had been stolen from a house. To top off the litany of crime, the man said that he also stole a new engine and two high-back bucket seats for his car. Based on the said information, duly sworn to by the witness, a search warrant was issued.
On the other hand, the man’s sole contention is that the search warrant was invalid since the supporting papers did not establish the reliability of the witness as an informant. But, the court disagrees. The criminal court stated that the witness’ affidavit was a sworn statement of an identified member of the community attesting to facts which he had directly and personally observed.
Sources revealed that it is one of the basic guidelines in the law that warrants authorizing the search of private residences may not issue except upon probable cause based on the facts presented to the issuing officer under oath or affirmation, the requirement of probable cause is satisfied where the issuing officer has knowledge, derived from a reasonable reliable source, of facts and circumstances sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that a crime has been committed.
The court stated that the affidavit presented was sufficiently meets the standard of the law. The informer was named; the information involving the offender in criminal activity was set out in detail, as was the means by which he acquired the information. The informer related criminal activity that he had personally observed and heard on the premises in question. The information furnished was not based upon casual rumor, guess, suspicion or general reputation of the offender. In addition, informant’s name, residence and telephone number were revealed.
The man argues that the two-sided test, which requires that the informer’s reliability be demonstrated either by independent corroborative verification of his tale or by a showing that the same informer previously supplied accurate information, was not met in the case. However, the court is not dealing with a situation in which it is appropriate to apply so exacting an analysis.
The court further stated that unlike from the previous related case where the affiant is not a police officer repeating a story told to him by a reliable informant. Instead, the information furnished the court came directly from the informer’s sworn statement, without the benefit of filtering by the police.
Further, the test is appropriate where the affiant has no direct knowledge of the information and where the Magistrate has no statement originating directly from the one who does have personal knowledge. Therefore, in the previous case, the court found the police affidavit faulty in that there was no basis upon which to credit the police officer’s statement that the informant was reliable. In addition, the Magistrate had not been told how the informant came by his information, whether through direct observation or underworld rumor.
The court also assert that to have sustained the validity of the affidavit, it would have been to permit search warrants to issue on the oath of a police officer that someone else had the reliable information necessary to establish probable cause.
The court also stated that they knew who the informer was, how he came by the information, and exactly what the informer had to offer. Moreover, to require more, under the circumstances presented, would mean that only the affidavits of professional informers, who oft times demonstrate a greater tendency to falsity, could present enough to make out probable cause. Such a result is patently meaningless. The sworn statements of private citizens, who report a crime in an honest and forthright manner, may, and should be relied upon by the police and the courts as a basis for further action. It is not uncommon to place such heavy reliance upon the role of citizen informers.
Sources revealed that the average citizen who provides the authorities with information as to observed criminal activity does so with no expectation of private gain. Rather, he aids the police in enforcing the laws in order to promote the safety and order of the society as a whole.
The court cannot hold that citizen informers are as naturally suspicious individuals as the underworld resident upon whose oath, out of necessity, law enforcement officials must often rely. To do so would be to degrade the character of public-spirited citizens. Instead, such civic-mindedness should be encouraged and applauded.
The court also point out that there are adequate protection against the rendition of false information. The affidavit, such as was submitted by the informer, contained a warning that the giving of a false statement constituted a violation of the Penal Law. The averments made by the informant were then declarations against his penal interest. Moreover, the threat of possible prosecution in the man’s case was not an empty gesture, as the police had the informant’s name and address, and could track the informer down if necessary. Nor is criminal punishment the only sanction that might be imposed. An informer may be subject to civil damages for malicious prosecution where he furnishes false information causing a person’s premises to be unlawfully searched.
The court concludes that the witness’ affidavit was properly relied upon to establish the existence of probable cause warranting a search of the man’s premises. Consequently, the motion to suppress the evidence obtained by the search was properly denied.
If you want to contest a search that happened in your premises even if there is a warrant, you can seek assistance from the Suffolk County Criminal Lawyer. Further, whenever you are involved in a case of burglary and got arrested, you can ask legal representation from the Suffolk County Grand Larceny Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates office.