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Search Warrants and Confidential Informants

Search warrants are the primary means used by police officers to search the home of a suspect.

Search warrants can be obtained several different ways. A common practice used by the drug task force and vice units is the use of confidential informants (CIs) to obtain a search warrant. Confidential informants help the police department to gather the required information to obtain a search warrant.

An informant may buy drugs while wearing a wire, or may simply go to a home and purchase drugs or narcotics while under surveillance by the police. No matter how the police use the confidential informant, police often are not required to disclose the identity of the informant to obtain a search warrant.

What is required to use a CI?

When obtaining a search warrant using a CI, the police must be able to meet a two-part constitutional test known as the Aguliar-Spinelli. Aguliar-Spinelli requires the police to prove the (1) basis of knowledge of the informant; and (2) the veracity of the informant.

In other words, the police must show (1) why the informant has the information and (2) whether the informant is known to be truthful.

Example: State v. Woods

The second requirement, the veracity of the informant, was recently challenged in Tennessee in the case of State v. Woods.

In Woods, the defendant had been convicted and was facing jail time for drug charges.

In the search warrant that led to the conviction, the officer had stated this about the informant: “provided reliable and credible information in the past concerning crack cocaine and the trafficking of crack cocaine.”

Based on this information provided by the officer, the magistrate issued the search warrant.

However, through the appeal process of the conviction in Woods, the court ruled that the police officer who filed for the search warrant had not satisfied the second prong of Aguliar-Spinelli. The statement was conclusory, the court ruled, and was not indicative as to whether the information was accurate. The court further explained that if prior information by the informant had led to convictions, then that would satisfy the requirement.

But because the officer failed to correctly follow the warrant requirements, the jury verdict was reversed and all evidence against the defendant was suppressed.

The case was sent back to court and the outcome is likely to be much different now that all evidence against the defendant has been suppressed.

This case clearly illustrates how quickly a case can change upon a thorough review of all evidence by a highly-skilled attorney. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge with a search warrant, contact Collins Law Firm today.