Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drug possession case, reversing a lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress and holding that the prosecution failed to meet its burden to establish that the defendant’s arrest was legal. In so holding, the court discussed when the prosecution must establish the reliability of information that was given to police.
The defendant was pulled over for two minor traffic offenses by two Syracuse police officers. During the traffic stop, the officers received information that the defendant had an outstanding warrant out of Cortland. One of the officers then contacted the 911 Center, which verified that the defendant had an active warrant. The 911 Center then requested that the police officers detain the defendant until one of their officers could take him into custody.
The defendant was arrested and taken to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). While at the CID, an officer asked the defendant if he had anything illegal on him. The defendant admitted that he had two baggies of cocaine, which the officers then recovered. The defendant was arrested and charged with drug possession.
In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the prosecution failed to establish that his initial arrest was a legal one. The trial court disagreed and dismissed the defendant’s motion. The defendant then appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.
On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and vacated the defendant’s conviction. The court reasoned that, under the “fellow officer rule,” a police officer is able to rely on the information in a radio bulletin or information that is provided by another officer and assume that it is reliable. Thus, this information can form the basis of probable cause. However, when a defendant challenges the reliability of that information, the presumption of probable cause disappears, and the prosecution then must establish that the officer or agency that conveyed the information actually possessed probable cause.
Here, the court noted that the defendant directly challenged the reliability of the information provided to the police officers who arrested him. In response, the prosecution elicited testimony from the arresting officer regarding his conversation with the 911 Center. The court held that this was inadmissible hearsay that should not have been admitted at the motion to suppress, and under these circumstances, the prosecution failed to meet its burden to prove that the defendant’s arrest was a legal one.
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