Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Reliability of a Confidential Informant is a Factor when Determining Reasonable Suspicion
The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled recently in the case of Commonwealth v. Brown, regarding a police stop and seizure based on information obtained from a confidential informant. Thomas Brown was stopped by police in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, after police received information that Brown was to participate in a drug transaction at the corner of Academy Road and Grant Avenue, within a two-hour timeframe. Police arrived at the intersection and observed Brown appear, exit his vehicle, and return to his vehicle with a brown paper bag. Police subsequently stopped the vehicle and searched the car, finding bottles of pills, a firearm in the trunk, and a tally book in the glove compartment.
At trial, Brown argued that he had a possessory interest in the car, requiring police to have either Brown’s permission or probable cause to search the vehicle. The trial court determined that Brown was driving the vehicle when he was stopped, the vehicle he was driving was known to the police through the confidential informant, and the vehicle had not been reported stolen. There was also no evidence that the owner of the vehicle did not give permission to Brown to use the vehicle. Therefore, the court determined that Brown in fact did have a possessory interest in the vehicle.
Upon this finding, the police were required to have a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Reasonable suspicion is dependant upon both the content of the information possessed by police and its degree of reliability. The Commonwealth produced no evidence to show that the confidential informant used in this case had been reliable in the past; rather that the CI had merely been “used” in the past. The Superior Court agreed with the trial court that the information obtained from the confidential informant had not been proven reliable. The issue therefore became whether an unreliable source who gives information of a car appearing at a busy intersection within a two-hour timeframe, with nothing else, was enough to satisfy the reasonable suspicion requirement. The Court agreed that it did not, and further stated that witnessing the driver return to his vehicle with a brown paper bag was not illegal and did not corroborate with the CI’s information. The illegality of the police stop and seizure was upheld by the Superior Court.
Drug offenses are serious matters in Pennsylvania; certain offenses such as trafficking are considered felonies and carry mandatory minimum sentences. The Fourth Amendment of the United States’ Constitution affords individual rights pertaining to police search and seizure. Very often, an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will have evidence found inadmissible due to an illegal police search, and will have charges against the defendant dropped or greatly reduced.
If you have been charged with a drug offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff immediately. We are glad to assist you in your defense.