238 F.3d 1036 (8th Cir. 2001), 00-1657, United States v. Tyler

Docket Nº:00-1657.
Citation:238 F.3d 1036
Case Date:January 24, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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238 F.3d 1036 (8th Cir. 2001)




No. 00-1657.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 24, 2001

Submitted: October 17, 2000.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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Before Beam, Heaney, and Morris Sheppard Arnold, Circuit Judges.

Morris Sheppard Arnold, Circuit Judge.

Andrew Tyler was arrested by the police after they executed a search warrant and found evidence implicating him in drug crimes. Pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2), Mr. Tyler entered a conditional plea of guilty to two counts of possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute it, see 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), § 841(b)(1)(A), and the district court sentenced him to 120 months of imprisonment.

On appeal, Mr. Tyler challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence uncovered by the search and argues that his sentence was improper. We affirm the district court 1 in all respects.


Mr. Tyler maintains first that the district court should have suppressed the incriminating evidence that the search produced because the search warrant was not supported by probable cause. Probable cause requires that the circumstances set forth in an affidavit supporting an application for a search warrant demonstrate "a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place," Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). On appeal, we will uphold a judicial determination of probable cause if we believe that there was "a 'substantial basis for ... conclud[ing]' that a search would uncover evidence of wrongdoing," id. at 236, quoting Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 271 (1960). We review the district court's fact-finding in support of its ruling on the motion to suppress for clear error, and we review de novo the district court's ultimate application of the law to the facts. See United States v. Lewis, 183 F.3d 791, 793 (8th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 120 S.Ct. 1180 (2000).

We believe that there was probable cause to justify issuing the search warrant. Before the police obtained the warrant, they were tipped off to Mr. Tyler's illegal activities by Joe Garza, a drug offender turned police informant. Mr. Garza revealed to the police that Mr. Tyler was his supplier for drugs, and he provided a wealth of detailed information about Mr. Tyler to support his accusation. Mr. Garza, for example, correctly identified Mr. Tyler by his alias, "PT," and recited to the police Mr. Tyler's phone number and address. He also described Mr. Tyler's two cars. The police verified the accuracy of Mr. Garza's descriptions through their own investigation and found that Mr. Garza's account matched Mr. Tyler's known reputation as a drug dealer.

In determining whether probable cause exists, we do not evaluate each piece of information independently; rather, we consider all of the facts for their cumulative meaning. See United States v. Morales, 923 F.2d 621, 623-24 (8th Cir. 1991). Viewing, as a whole, all of the information collected by the police, we believe it clear that a reasonable person could suspect that a search would uncover evidence of crimes committed by Mr. Tyler. See United States v. LaMorie, 100 F.3d 547, 552-53 (8th Cir. 1996).

Mr. Tyler argues that Mr. Garza's disclosures should not have been accepted as credible because Mr. Garza was not known to the police as a previously reliable source of information. He characterizes Mr. Garza's cooperation with the police as a self-serving attempt to deflect blame from

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himself and onto someone else. We reject this argument. While the credibility and reliability of a person providing information to the police are important considerations in determining whether probable cause exists, they are not "separate and independent requirements to be rigidly exacted in every case," Gates, 462 U.S. at 230. Rather, we must weigh an informant's statements in the context of all of the circumstances. See LaMorie, 100 F.3d at 553.

Mr. Garza's disclosures in this case were all verified by the police through their independent investigation. In past cases, we have strongly endorsed the use of corroboration as a method of confirming the reliability of information given to the police. See Morales, 923 F.2d at 624. Even "the corroboration of minor, innocent details can suffice to establish probable cause," United States v. Ramos, 818 F.2d 1392, 1397 n.7 (8th Cir. 1987).

We also believe that Mr. Garza's disclosures were presumptively credible because they were made against his penal interest. Statements against the penal interest of an informant typically "carry considerable weight," LaMorie, 100 F.3d at 553. We disagree with Mr. Tyler's contention that Mr. Garza's disclosures were not against his penal interest and that Mr. Garza was merely trying to blame someone else for his own crimes. After the police caught Mr. Garza with drugs in his possession, he admitted not only that he had obtained the drugs from Mr. Tyler but also that he had purchased drugs from Mr. Tyler on "numerous occasions" over the previous year. Thus Mr. Garza's statements cannot be taken merely as blame-shifting because they admitted to criminal activities beyond those of which the police already knew him to be guilty.

Mr. Tyler also argues that the search warrant was invalid because the police used stale evidence to make out probable cause. In the affidavit for the search warrant, the police stated that they had made a controlled buy of cocaine from Mr. Tyler "within the past 7 months." We have observed that "[t]here is no bright-line test for determining when information is stale ... and the vitality of probable cause cannot be quantified by simply counting the number of days...

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