Com. v. Robinson

Decision Date04 August 1988
Citation526 N.E.2d 778,403 Mass. 163
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Pierre A. ROBINSON.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Newman Flanagan, Dist. Atty., Kevin J. Ross and Lynn M. Beland, Asst. Dist. Attys., for Com.

Stephen Hrones, Boston, for defendant.

Before HENNESSEY, C.J., and WILKINS, LIACOS, ABRAMS, NOLAN, LYNCH and O'CONNOR, JJ.

ABRAMS, Justice.

At issue is the correctness of an order allowing the defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from the defendant's person. The Commonwealth applied to a single justice for leave to appeal. See Mass.R.Crim.P. 15(b)(2), 378 Mass. 884 (1979). The single justice allowed the Commonwealth's application and transferred the case to this court. We reverse the order allowing the defendant's motion to suppress.

We summarize the facts as found by the motion judge. At approximately 4 A.M., on September 5, 1986, Detective Robert Tully of the Boston police department's drug control unit, received a telephone call at his home from an informant. On previous occasions, this informant had supplied Tully with information that had led to approximately twenty-five arrests and fifteen convictions in connection with cocaine and heroin trafficking. The informant told Tully that a twenty-year-old black male would be arriving at the Greyhound bus station at about 5 or 5:30 A.M., 1 on the bus from New York City and that the man would be carrying a large amount of cocaine. The informant described the man as being approximately six feet tall and wearing a black windbreaker with a white stripe, dark pants, and a black T-shirt with an anti-drug slogan printed on it. Tully telephoned his superior officer and his partner and then proceeded to the bus station.

The bus from New York was late arriving in Boston. When it did arrive, Tully and his partner observed the defendant, who fit the informant's description, disembark from the bus, walk through the terminal, and hail a taxicab on the street. As the defendant opened the taxicab door, the police officers placed him under arrest. A search of the defendant's person uncovered 148 vials containing "crack" cocaine, two bags of rock cocaine, and 400 empty vials. With these facts in mind, we turn to the Commonwealth's contention that the motion judge erroneously granted the defendant's motion to suppress the seized evidence.

To comport with art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, an arrest and search executed in response to an informant's tip must meet the two-pronged standard of probable cause set forth in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964), and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969). We require the Commonwealth to demonstrate (1) some underlying circumstances from which the law enforcement officials could have concluded that the information was reliable (the veracity test); and (2) some underlying circumstances which demonstrate a basis of the informant's knowledge (basis of knowledge test). Commonwealth v. Bottari, 395 Mass. 777, 783, 482 N.E.2d 321 (1985). Commonwealth v. Borges, 395 Mass. 788, 794, 482 N.E.2d 314 (1985). Commonwealth v. Upton, 394 Mass. 363, 375, 476 N.E.2d 548 (1985) (Upton II ). "These are vital, not merely perfunctory requirements. To justify the intrusion of an arrest and search, the tip must not only come from a credible person, but he must be shown to be relying on something more than a casual rumor or an individual's general reputation." Commonwealth v. Avery, 365 Mass. 59, 63, 309 N.E.2d 497 (1974).

We first address the reliability prong of the Aguilar-Spinelli test, and in so doing, we conclude, as did the judge below, that the informant's reliability was established sufficiently to provide the police with probable cause for the arrest and search. The motion judge found that, on prior occasions, the informant had provided accurate information which had resulted in twenty-five arrests and fifteen convictions of individuals engaged in narcotics trafficking. The informant's past record of supplying credible information satisfies the reliability prong of the Aguilar-Spinelli test. See Commonwealth v. Avery, supra (informant's reliability established by six prior occasions to arrest); Commonwealth v. Vynorius, 369 Mass. 17, 21, 336 N.E.2d 898 (1975) (informant's reliability established by one prior occasion on which informant successfully had assisted police investigation).

Addressing the second prong of the Aguilar-Spinelli test, we agree with the motion judge that the informant failed to provide information which would have established the basis of his knowledge of the defendant's drug possession. However, "[i]n the absence of a statement detailing the manner in which the information was gathered, it is especially important that the tip describe the accused's criminal activity in sufficient detail that the magistrate may know that he is relying on something more substantial than a casual rumor circulating in the underworld or an accusation based merely on an individual's general reputation. The detail provided by the informant in iDraper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307 [79 S.Ct. 329, 3 L.Ed.2d 327] (1959), provides a suitable benchmark." Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 416, 89 S.Ct. 584, 589, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969). Relying on Spinelli, we have stated that independent police corroboration can compensate for...

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54 cases
  • Com. v. Cast
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 11, 1990
    ...law enforcement officials could have concluded the informant was credible or reliable (the "veracity" test). Commonwealth v. Robinson, 403 Mass. 163, 164-165, 526 N.E.2d 778 (1988). However, an informant's detailed tip, plus independent police corroboration of those details, of the type tha......
  • Com. v. Joe
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • May 31, 1996
    ...to a warrant, Commonwealth v. Upton, 394 Mass. 363, 370, 374-375, 476 N.E.2d 548 (1985), or an arrest, Commonwealth v. Robinson, 403 Mass. 163, 164-165, 526 N.E.2d 778 (1988), based upon such a tip. Neither the warrant nor the arrest scenario fits the present Rather, based upon the hearing ......
  • Commonwealth v. Escalera
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 29, 2012
    ...or reliable (the ‘veracity’ test).” Commonwealth v. Cast, 407 Mass. 891, 896, 556 N.E.2d 69 (1990), quoting Commonwealth v. Robinson, 403 Mass. 163, 164–165, 526 N.E.2d 778 (1988). “However, an informant's detailed tip, plus independent police corroboration of those details ... can compensa......
  • Commonwealth v. Ferreira, SJC-11479
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • March 18, 2019
    ...police corroboration may serve to bolster the reliability of information contained in an affidavit. See Commonwealth v. Robinson, 403 Mass. 163, 166, 526 N.E.2d 778 (1988).Here, the basis of knowledge prong was satisfied because the victim's sister informed police of an admission made by th......
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