The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a Brockton man’s conviction for unlawfully possessing a gun, ruling his motion to suppress had been properly denied. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Santos.
A Massachusetts state trooper filed an application for a warrant to search the defendant’s car. Accompanying the application was his affidavit which articulated the facts upon which he relied in believing he had probable cause to search the car. The trooper, who had years of police experience, wrote that he had received information during the preceding two days from an informant. The trooper knew the informant’s true identity but did not name him in the affidavit (which is a common practice). The informant had previously provided information to the state police that had resulted in the recovery of an illegal shotgun in Brockton. In this case, the informant told the trooper he had seen a man named Jerry (later identified as the defendant) place a revolver in the trunk of an Acura Integra. The informant described the defendant’s appearance and provided the license plate number for the car. The informant also described the location of the car, which was parked behind the defendant’s home on Main Street. The informant identified the defendant’s RMV photo (which was provided by the trooper). Troopers saw the car and the defendant at the address provided by the informant. The troopers were also able to connect the Acura to the defendant by referencing prior interactions between the defendant and the police. Finally, the affidavit stated the defendant had a history of drug-related convictions. Based on this information the trooper obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s car. Officers who were executing the warrant found the defendant standing near the car. They obtained the car’s keys from the defendant, opened the trunk, and found the revolver. A superior court jury convicted the defendant of unlawfully carrying a gun and he appealed.
The only appellate issue was whether the defendant’s motion to suppress the gun should have been allowed prior to his trial. When a police officer seeks a warrant based on information provided by a confidential informant, courts apply the Aguilar-Spinelli test (named for two United States Supreme Court decisions). The test requires the Commonwealth to establish the informant’s basis of knowledge (how does he know the information he’s providing) and his veracity (how can we trust what he’s saying is true?). In this case, the informant’s basis of knowledge was his own observations of the defendant’s conduct, so the first prong of the test was satisfied. The defendant argued the veracity of the informant could not be established and, therefore, the warrant should not have been approved. The Appeals Court disagreed. The fact that the trooper knew the true identity of the informant contributed to his veracity (as there could be repercussions if the informant provided false information). Further, the police were able to corroborate some of the most important facts provided by the informant, including the identity of the defendant. Finally, the informant had a history of providing accurate information about a stolen gun. For all of these reasons, the Commonwealth satisfied both prongs of the Aguilar-Spinelli test and the motion to suppress had been properly denied.