State v. Joseph, 73-331-C

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
Citation114 R.I. 596,337 A.2d 523
Docket NumberNo. 73-331-C,73-331-C
PartiesSTATE v. Edwin P. JOSEPH, Jr. A.
Decision Date12 May 1975

KELLEHER, Justice.

This is the state's appeal from a judgment entered in the Superior Court granting the defendant's motions to suppress evidence and dismiss two indictments which charged him with different possessory offenses-possession of counterfeit money and possession of four stolen radios. The pivotal issue is the sufficiency of two nearly identical affidavits submitted by the Westerly police to a judge of the District Court who then issued two search warrants. One warrant authorized the search of the defendant's automobile, and the other warrant permitted a search of a two-story dwelling that was owned and occupied by the defendant's parents.

The record presented to us is, to say the least, scanty. It consists of a transcript of the trial justice's decision and the warrants and supporting affidavits. Following oral argument before us, counsel stipulated that (1) the counterfeit money was seized in the home, and (2) the radios were removed from defendant's automobile.

The affidavits were executed by the acting chief of police. Each affidavit alleged that information supplied to the chief by a reliable confidential informer indicated that at 2:00 p.m. on February 11, 1971, the informant met defendant on Canal Street in Westerly and that at that time defendant attempted to sell the informant some counterfeit $10 bills. The informant, who knew defendant, also told the chief that the bills were in a box on the floor of defendant's 1965 green Mustang. The box, he said, contained more than $50,000 in counterfeit money. The chief then averred that after receipt of this information the police placed the Mustang and the home of defendant's parents under surveillance. The vehicle was parked on the parents' premises. The chief concluded the affidavit which sought a search of the automobile by expressing his belief that counterfeits were to be found in the Mustang. He finished the affidavit relating to the proposed search of the dwelling by saying that it was his belief that the counterfeits were to be found there.

The trial justice who heard the suppression motion faulted the affidavits because of the chief's failure to establish the reliability of his source of information. In his affidavit, the chief had described his informant as one '* * * who has been reliable in the past, and has led to the arrest and convictions of persons in the past.' In his decision, the trial justice stated that the lack of specifics as to what particular convictions were attributable to the informant's past efforts offered no basis upon which the requisite reliability of the informant could be established. We cannot endorse this view. However, even though we fault the trial justice's reasoning, we find that the suppression of the evidence relating to the counterfeit charge was correct.

The applicable principles which control our decision here have been articulated by this court in a number of cases including State v. Soroka, 112 R.I. 392, 311 A.2d 45 (1973); State v. Nerney, 110 R.I. 364, 292 A.2d 882 (1972); State v. Cannon, 110 R.I. 246, 292 A.2d 219 (1972); State v. Roach, 106 R.I. 280, 259 A.2d 119 (1969), where we have recognized that in instances in which the police seek a search warrant on information supplied to them by a confidential informer the standards to be applied are those promulgated in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964), as explicated in Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969). In essence, the Aguilar rule requires a showing of 'some of the underlying circumstances' relating both to the informer's conclusion that the law is being violated, or that the objects to be sought may be found where he claims they are located, and to the affiant's conclusion that his informer or the information he supplies is trustworthy.

In considering whether the affidavits submitted to the District Court judge sufficiently established the reliability of the confidential informant, we are aware that the affidavits must be tested in a commonsense and realistic fashion. The constitutional interdiction is not against all searches and seizures, but only those that are unreasonable. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973); United States v. Harris, 403 U.S. 573, 91 S.Ct. 2075, 29 L.Ed.2d 723 (1971); United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 85 S.Ct. 741, 13 L.Ed.2d 684 (1965).

In State v. Cannon, supra, we rejected a defense contention that an unidentified informer's trustworthiness could be verified only by the affiant's recitation of the convictions that had resulted from the informer's prior disclosures. An arrest, said the defense in Cannon, was a mere accusation which, unless followed by a conviction, did nothing to establish the requisite reliability. Not so, we said, and then pointed out that there can be a variety of factors having no relevance to the informer's veracity and reliability that may prohibit the factfinder from reaching a guilty verdict.

As we address ourselves to the particular issue of a lack of specifics as to prior convictions, we are reminded by our consideration of the plethora of litigation that has evolved from police reliance on the unidentified informant that it is rare to find two affidavits that are identical in all respects. The disparity is understandable when one considers that the affidavits are usually prepared when the police are in the midst of an investigation and time is of the essence. A detailed analysis of cases that have language similar to that used by Westerly's acting chief can be found in State v. kraft, 269 Md. 583, 307 A.2d 683 (1973). There, the Maryland Court of Appeals gave its approbation to an affidavit in which an informant was described as 'a reliably established informant' who was 'responsible for eleven narcotics arrests,' and a second informant was described as one who 'has provided reliable information to this Dept. for the past six months.'

Among the cases dicussed in Kraft are four that were cited in State v. Cannon, supra, at 253 n. 10, 292 A.2d at 223 n. 10. They are United States v. Buonomo, 441 F.2d 922 (7th Cir. 1971); 1 United States v. Shipstead, 433 F.2d 368 (9th Cir. 1970); 2 United States v. Kidd, 407 F.2d 1316 (6th Cir. 1969); 3 United States v. Rich, 407 F.2d 934 (5th Cir. 1969). 4 The validity of the warrants in each of those four cases was upheld. In Buonomo, the defendant made the same objection being made here-a lack of detail as to the informer's reliability. However, the federal court noted that the informant told of how on the day before the affidavit was executed he had observed in the defendant's home a large quantity of counterfeit motor vehicle title certificates which the defendant had offered to sell to him. Again in Kidd, the informant told the affiant he had seen the contraband ('moonshine' whiskey) in the defendant's possession on the day the affidavit was executed. It was pointed out in Kedd that the Court in Spinelli emphasized that the reliability facet of the Aguilar test could have been satisfied by a declaration by the affiant of his informer's reliability.

We would also cite State v. Perry, 59 N.J. 383, 283 A.2d 330 (1971), and Warren v. Commonwealth, 214 Va. 600, 202 S.E.2d 885 (1974). The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an affiant's statement that he had said that his informer 'has in the past given reliable information leading to arrests' established the informer's reliability. Virginia's highest court affirmed an affidavit in which an assistant prosecutor had stated that the informer had 'on numerous occasions' supplied information which had 'proven to be correct.'

This court in State v. Nerney, supra, emphasized that in the evaluation of affidavits submitted to a magistrate who may issue a search warrant, the issue is probable cause, not guilt, and the evaluator should keep in mind that the affidavit in most instances has been drafted by one who has not been schooled in the niceties of the law.

Here, we have an affidavit which contains the informant's personal observations and knowledge of an incident that occurred within hours of the execution of the affidavit. The chief's description of the informer's past performances was not a bald conclusionary statement. It was an explanation given under oath and it told the District Court judge that the chief's conclusion was based on the fact that the informer's prior tips had led to arrests and convictions.

While some detailing of an informant's track record might be desirable, it is not a necessity. A realistic view of what went on in Westerly as the police investigated the report of the counterfeit money would indicate that the chief had other things on his mind besides reaching into the files to had come up with good information. We had come up with good information. We would also emphasize that an affiant who...

To continue reading

Request your trial
21 cases
  • State v. Pratt, 92-542-C
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • May 13, 1994
    ...cause must be found within the "four corners" of an affidavit submitted in support of the issuance of a warrant, State v. Joseph, 114 R.I. 596, 603, 337 A.2d 523, 527 (1975), a judicial officer may draw reasonable inferences from the affidavit in order to reach a determination of probable c......
  • State v. Eiseman, 81-502-C
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • June 10, 1983
    ...380 U.S. at 108, 85 S.Ct. at 746, 13 L.Ed.2d at 689; see State v. Read, R.I., 416 A.2d 684, 689-90 (1980); State v. Joseph, 114 R.I. 596, 598, 337 A.2d 523, 525 (1975). Similarly, we reject defendant's contention that the affidavit was "sourceless." Admittedly, the affidavit did not identif......
  • State v. Toucet
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • September 12, 2022
    ...... .           For. Plaintiff: Joseph J. McBurney, Esq. James R. Baum, Esq. . .           For. Defendants: Jeffrey B. Pine, Esq.; Judith Crowell, Esq.;. ......
  • State v. Storey, 2009-178-C.A.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • December 3, 2010
    ......Joseph, 114 R.I. 596, 603, 337 A.2d 523, 527 (1975) and Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983)). Our review of the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT