People v. Castillo

Decision Date22 December 1992
Citation592 N.Y.S.2d 945,607 N.E.2d 1050,80 N.Y.2d 578
Parties, 607 N.E.2d 1050, 61 USLW 2450 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Juan CASTILLO, Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
OPINION OF THE COURT

SIMONS, Acting Chief Judge.

Defendant has been convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. The inculpating evidence was discovered after police executed a warrant based upon information supplied by a confidential informant authorizing a search of his apartment.

After his arrest, defendant sought to inspect the warrant and the supporting documents and to have a hearing to challenge the issuing Judge's determination that probable cause for the search existed. The court denied discovery and, following an in camera suppression hearing, denied the motion to suppress. Defendant was not afforded the opportunity to see the supporting documents or to participate in the hearing because the court found that disclosure of the informant's identity and/or statements could compromise the safety of the informant or the integrity of future investigations (see, CPL 240.50). The sealed record, which includes the search warrant and supporting affidavits and the oral testimony heard by the issuing Judge and the suppression court, has been supplied to the Appellate Division and to this Court and an examination of it establishes convincingly that there was support for the determination by the courts below that the warrant was issued upon probable cause, that the documents supporting the warrant were not perjurious and that the affidavit and oral testimony could not be effectively redacted for delivery to defendant without destroying the informant's anonymity.

Defendant does not challenge in this Court the claimed need for confidentiality; he contends only that a suppression procedure conducted without his participation violates his constitutional right to due process of law and the effective assistance of counsel. The sum of his argument is that regardless of the substantiality of the evidence supporting the warrant or the need for confidentiality, disclosure of the information, if not the identity, of the informant is always required. We conclude that under the circumstances presented in this record, the trial court could, and properly did, deny defendant discovery.

I

On April 6, 1988 police officers searched defendant's apartment at 611 West 177th Street in New York. The search was authorized by a Supreme Court Justice who approved the warrant after examining the police officer and his affidavit in support of the warrant and after taking the sworn testimony of the confidential informant upon which the officer's affidavit was based. After issuing the warrant, the Justice ordered the record sealed.

When the police executed the warrant, they found eight pounds of cocaine, a loaded machine gun, two handguns and 100 rounds of automatic ammunition underneath the floorboards of defendant's bedroom closet. In a cabinet in the dining room they found $28,000 in cash, approximately half of which was in denominations of $20 bills or smaller. Defendant was present during the search and was arrested after the officers discovered the contraband. He was subsequently charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree. He sought suppression of the narcotics and weapons found in his apartment claiming they were seized pursuant to an unlawful search.

In addition to challenging the sufficiency of the warrant application, defendant also claimed that the search was tainted because of a prior police contact. Defense counsel alleged that defendant's wife told him that two detectives had come to the apartment on April 5, 1988, the day before the search, and entered the living room without seeking permission to do so. Once inside, the officers showed defendant's wife a picture of a person they claimed had previously lived in the apartment and asked if she knew where he was. She told them that she did not and that the only people then living in the apartment with her were her husband and her daughter. According to Ms. Castillo, some of the police officers went through the apartment without permission.

Defense counsel claimed that this entry into defendant's apartment was illegal because it was not authorized by a warrant, was not consensual, and was not supported by exigent circumstances. He also maintained that, but for this illegal entry, there would be no evidence providing probable cause for the warrant authorizing the search conducted the following day. Subsequent to the hearing on the warrant, the suppression court conducted an in camera hearing to determine if the conduct of the officers on April 5 tainted the search on April 6. The evidence presented included the facts that the April 5 search was by officers from another agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and that it involved a former tenant. The suppression court found that the two searches were unrelated and that the earlier search had not tainted the latter.

After defendant's suppression motion was denied, he entered a plea of guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance in the second degree and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree in satisfaction of the indictment.

II

Defendant has a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches (U.S. Const. 4th Amend.; N.Y.Const., art. I, § 12). Evidence acquired by unconstitutional means, as determined at a pretrial suppression hearing, must be excluded at trial (see, Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533, 536, 108 S.Ct. 2529, 2533, 101 L.Ed.2d 472; People v. Johnson, 66 N.Y.2d 398, 497 N.Y.S.2d 618, 488 N.E.2d 439). The question presented is whether defendant has an absolute right to take part in such a hearing. Its resolution depends upon a sensitive balancing of a defendant's right to participate in the defense and society's need to encourage citizens to participate in law enforcement by granting them anonymity when necessary for their protection (see, Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 62, 77 S.Ct. 623, 628, 1 L.Ed.2d 639; People v. Darden, 34 N.Y.2d 177, 181-182, 356 N.Y.S.2d 582, 313 N.E.2d 49).

Analysis starts by focusing on the nature of the proceeding for there is a fundamental difference between a trial to adjudicate guilt or innocence and a pretrial hearing to suppress evidence. The due process requirements for a hearing may be less elaborate and demanding than those at the trial proper (United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 679, 100 S.Ct. 2406, 2414, 65 L.Ed.2d 424; United States v. Williams, 716 F.2d 864, 865, cert. denied sub nom. Taylor v. United States, 467 U.S. 1216, 104 S.Ct. 2660, 81 L.Ed.2d 366; People v. Scalza, 76 N.Y.2d 604, 609-610, 562 N.Y.S.2d 14, 563 N.E.2d 705). This is so because, as the Supreme Court has observed, at a pretrial hearing,

" 'we are not dealing with the trial of the criminal charge itself. There the need for a truthful verdict outweighs society's need for the informer privilege. Here, however, the accused seeks to avoid the truth. The very purpose of a motion to suppress is to escape the inculpatory thrust of evidence in hand, not because its probative force is diluted in the least by the mode of seizure, but rather as a sanction to compel enforcement officers to respect the constitutional security of all of us under the Fourth Amendment * * * If the motion to suppress is denied, defendant will still be judged upon the untarnished truth.' " (McCray v. Illinois, 386 U.S. 300, 307, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 1060, 18 L.Ed.2d 62 [quoting from State v. Burnett, 42 N.J. 377, 201 A.2d 39]; see generally, 1 LaFave, Search and Seizure § 3.3[g] [2d ed.].)

The ability to limit disclosure during trial must be fairly circumscribed where the identity of the informer or the contents of the informer's communication is relevant and helpful to the defense (see, Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 60-61, 77 S.Ct. 623, 628, supra; People v. Goggins, 34 N.Y.2d 163, 168-169, 356 N.Y.S.2d 571, 313 N.E.2d 41, cert. denied 419 U.S. 1012, 95 S.Ct. 332, 42 L.Ed.2d 286). Indeed, many of the cases cited by the dissent stand for the unquestioned importance of defendant's right to participate in his trial. They do not address the requirements for pretrial hearings, however, where the considerations are substantially different. The exclusionary rule is not aimed at safeguarding the truth-seeking process nor is its underlying purpose to redress any injury to the defendant's privacy. It is a judicially created remedy intended as a means of discouraging police misconduct (see, Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 486, 96 S.Ct. 3037, 3048, 49 L.Ed.2d 1067). Accordingly, defendant's interest in availing himself of the exclusionary rule may, in exceptional circumstances, be subordinated to safety precautions necessary to encourage citizens to participate in law enforcement.

Recognition of this principle is implicit in our holdings that a suppression court can deny disclosure of the identity of an informant (see, People v. Darden, 34 N.Y.2d 177, 181, 356 N.Y.S.2d 582, 313 N.E.2d 49, supra; People v. Castro, 29 N.Y.2d 324, 326, 327 N.Y.S.2d 632, 277 N.E.2d 654; People v. Coffey, 12 N.Y.2d 443, 452-453, 240 N.Y.S.2d 721, 191 N.E.2d 263, cert. denied 376 U.S. 916, 84 S.Ct. 671, 11 L.Ed.2d 612; accord, McCray v. Illinois, 386 U.S. 300, 312-313, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 1064, supra; cf., People v. Malinsky, 15 N.Y.2d 86, 262 N.Y.S.2d 65, 209 N.E.2d 694), or deny a defendant's motion to compel an undercover police officer...

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