Hamilton County Dealing Marijuana Conviction Reversed
A Hamilton County man’s convictions for Class C felony dealing in marijuana and Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance have been reversed. The Indiana Court of Appeals determined the two tips that served as the basis of the probable cause affidavit to search the man’s home were unreliable. In addition, the Court determined the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department recklessly omitted significant information from the affidavit. The question of the informants’ reliability, along with the omitted information, resulted in the Court’s conclusion that there was insufficient probable cause to search the man’s home. A Hamilton County detective received a tip from a confidential informant (CI) that a man was selling marijuana out of his home in Westfield. Soon after, the CI was “deactivated” for failure to complete requirements before his case was adjudicated. As a result of the deactivation, the investigation against the defendant stopped.
One month later, the investigation commenced when the detective received another tip that the man was dealing marijuana, this time from an anonymous source. Based on the two tips, the detective applied for and obtained a search warrant for a canine drug sniff of the man’s property. The dog indicated the presence of drugs. The police obtained an additional warrant to search the interior of the residence and found numerous indicators of dealing marijuana, including a grow room, scales, seeds, and marijuana in baggies and jars. The man was convicted of Class C felony dealing in marijuana and Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance. At appeal, the Court determined there were several issues with the first affidavit of probable cause to search the house.
For a judge to determine whether hearsay can establish probable cause, the police must provide information supporting that the hearsay is valid. The Court has previously ruled that a short recitation of “the informant is ‘a confidential source who had provided information in the past which was determined to be credible and reliable’” is not sufficient. The probable cause affidavit in this case stated something similarly vague – that the CI “had provided accurate information in the past”.
The second tip was provided completely anonymously, therefore the informant had no credibility at all. While the State argued that the two tips reciprocally corroborated each other, the Court held that argument would only work if at least one of the informants had established credibility. In this case, neither did.
Both tips were unsupported by police corroboration. Any corroboration the two tips had was information that could have easily been obtained by the general public.
The detective omitted significant information in the affidavit for probable cause, including the fact that the investigation stopped after the CI was deactivated. The Court stated, “In other words, one could infer that law enforcement itself did not consider the CI’s tip to be trustworthy enough to warrant further investigation, but that fact was not disclosed to the magistrate.” The omission also prevented the Court from considering any “good faith” argument, which means that evidence should not be excluded if it was obtained by an officer acting in objective “good faith” and within the scope of the warrant.
Having your property searched by police is highly invasive, which is why Indiana law protects its citizens from unreasonable searches. If you were the subject of a police search and are facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney can review the facts of your case and determine any viable defenses. Call Gibson Law Office for a free initial consultation at one of our offices located in Fort Wayne and Lafayette.