State v. Penland

Citation384 A.2d 356,174 Conn. 153
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date03 January 1978
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Ralph PENLAND.

Walter H. Scanlon, Asst. State's Atty., for appellant (state).

Raymond J. Quinn, Jr., Public Defender, Waterbury, for appellee (defendant).


SPEZIALE, Associate Justice.

The sole issue raised in this appeal by the state is whether the court erred in granting the defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence on grounds that the defendant's arrest and the search incident to that arrest were illegal.

Ralph Penland was charged with possession of narcotics, heroin and methadone, in violation of General Statutes § 19-481(a). The evidence of the crime was seized in a warrantless search of the automobile in which Penland was a passenger, after a warrantless arrest of Penland and his companion. After an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress the seized evidence, the motion was granted (Levine, J.), and a subsequent motion to dismiss the case was also granted (O'Brien, J.), because the state conceded that the action could not be maintained without the evidence suppressed.

The crucial question here is whether there was probable cause for the arrest. It is an established rule that a properly conducted warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest is not illegal. State v. Cobuzzi, 161 Conn. 371, 373, 288 A.2d 439 (1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 1017, 92 S.Ct. 677, 30 L.Ed.2d 664; State v. Collins, 150 Conn. 488, 492, 191 A.2d 253 (1963); 4 Wharton, Criminal Evidence § 725 (13th Ed.). In order for the search to be legal, however, the arrest itself must be valid. State v. Cobuzzi, supra, 161 Conn. 375, 288 A.2d 439; 4 Wharton, loc. cit. Section 6-49 of the General Statutes authorizes a police officer to arrest, without a warrant, "any person who such officer has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or is committing a felony." "Reasonable grounds" is to be equated with probable cause. State v. Cobuzzi, supra, 161 Conn. 376, 288 A.2d 439; State v. Wilson, 153 Conn. 39, 41, 212 A.2d 75 (1965). Probable cause means more than mere suspicion. There must be facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge, and of which he has trustworthy information, sufficient to justify the belief of a reasonable person that an offense has been or is being committed. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-76, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949). There is often a fine line between mere suspicion and probable cause, and "(t)hat line necessarily must be drawn by an act of judgment formed in the light of the particular situation and with account taken of all the circumstances." Brinegar v. United States, supra, 176, 69 S.Ct. at 1311.

Whether there was probable cause for Penland's arrest can only be determined through scrutiny of the circumstances leading up to the arrest. Detective Thomas Hunt, the arresting officer, was the sole witness at the hearing on the motion to suppress. Although he testified that he was acting on a tip from an informant, the informant was not named and did not appear. Thus, the credibility of Hunt was a crucial factor in evaluating the issue of probable cause.

The court found that on November 30, 1974, Hunt, an undercover narcotics agent, received a telephone call from "an alleged reliable informant." Hunt testified that the informant had in the past supplied him with information that resulted in two arrests and convictions. The informant told Hunt that he was present in Tony's Restaurant in Naugatuck and that he had observed Penland and one Robert Babarik in possession of a quantity of heroin, that he had seen them sell two bags of heroin to another man, and that he had overheard them say they would be leaving in a few minutes. The informant also told Hunt that Penland and Babarik were operating a blue Dodge Dart. Hunt called two other detectives and they went to the area of Tony's Restaurant. They arrived roughly five minutes after receiving the telephone call and observed Penland and Babarik leaving the bar together. Hunt knew Penland and Babarik through previous narcotics investigations. He saw them cross the street and enter a blue Dodge Dart. At this point Hunt and the other detectives pulled over to the defendant's vehicle and arrested both of them for possession of narcotics while in the bar. Then, the immediate area around Penland and Babarik was searched; narcotics paraphernalia were found under the front dashboard, within arm's reach of the men, and a bottle of methadone, which Hunt recognized as contraband, was in open view on the back seat. No packaged quantity of heroin was found on the persons of Babarik or Penland. Contradicting his prior testimony, Hunt later testified that he was not arresting them for a transaction that had transpired at Tony's Restaurant.

The court concluded that there were no underlying circumstances from which it could determine that the informant was credible or his information reliable. See Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 413, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969); Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 114, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964). It further concluded that the arrests of Penland and Babarik were made without probable cause and that the search of the vehicle was therefore illegal, requiring suppression of the evidence secured by the search. See Beck v. Ohio, su...

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  • State v. Eady
    • United States
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    ...of all the circumstances. Brinegar v. United States, [338 U.S. 160, 176, 69 S. Ct. 1302, 93 L. Ed. 1879 (1949)]. State v. Penland, 174 Conn. 153, 155-56, 384 A.2d 356, cert. denied, 436 U.S. 906, 98 S. Ct. 2237, 56 L. Ed. 2d 404 (1978)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Dennis, ......
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