The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld a Springfield police officer’s search of a man that resulted in the seizure of 97 bags of heroin and five bags of cocaine. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Gonzalez.
On a June evening in 2013, a confidential informant provided information to a Springfield narcotics detective regarding the location of a drug dealer (who turned out to be the defendant) on a nearby street. The informant provided the defendant’s exact location and described the defendant’s shorts, shoes, and shirt. The informant also told the detective that the defendant was riding in a blue Honda (being driven by a white man) and the informant recited the license plate. While the informant’s identity was not revealed to the defendant, the detective knew his name, address, date of birth, and social security number. The informant had provided information in two prior cases that had resulted in arrests (one case involved a gun and the other case involved a large quantity of heroin). Upon receiving the tip from the informant, the detective notified other members of the narcotics task force, who were able to find the defendant in the location identified by the informant, wearing the clothes described by the informant, and riding in a blue Honda with a license plate that matched the description by the informant. The police followed the car for a short distance and ultimately confronted the defendant. After pulling the defendant from the car, the cops searched him and seized large amounts of drugs along with $499. Following his arrest, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the stop and search. A superior court judge denied the motion and the Appeals Court affirmed.
When police officers search a suspect based on information provided by a confidential informant, they are required to satisfy the Aguilar–Spinelli test (named for two famous United States Supreme Court cases). The test obligates the Commonwealth to prove: (1) the informant’s basis of knowledge (how did the informant receive the information he is passing along to the cops); and (2) the informant’s veracity (is the informant reliable?). In this case, while it was not explicitly stated, it can be inferred that the informant’s basis of knowledge was his own personal observations. The Court pointed out that the informant appeared to provide real-time information to the police which suggested the informant was watching the defendant as he spoke to the detective. Because the informant was relaying his own observations to the police (rather than obtaining the information from a third party), the basis of knowledge prong was satisfied. The Court further found the Commonwealth had proven the veracity of the informant, as he had provided information in the past that had led to the seizure of a gun and drugs. By providing correct information in the past, the informant established that his information was likely to be credible in the present case. The defendant argued the judge erroneously concluded the informant did not satisfy the veracity prong because a different judge had concluded the informant was not reliable in a different, unrelated case. The Court rejected that argument, reasoning that the previous case had involved a different fact pattern in which the informant had failed to provide the type of specific, detailed information that was passed along here.
With the denial of his motion to suppress, the defendant will now face trial in the superior court.