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GA Court of Appeals Reversal Due to Invalid Search Warrant

August 21, 2013

In Chatham v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence holding that there were insufficient facts to establish probable cause and justify the issuance of a search warrant.

Chatham was charged with violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act and moved to suppress evidence which had been seized from his residence pursuant to a search warrant. He contended that the affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause since it was based on information from an informant whose reliability was unknown and the officers did not take steps to corroborate the informant’s information. The trial court denied the motion and Chatham filed an interlocutory appeal.

The affidavit in support of the search warrant stated that the officer had met with a confidential informant who claimed to have personal knowledge that the defendant was selling crystal methamphetamine from a residence. The officer searched the informant and found no contraband or currency, then gave the informant money in order to attempt a methamphetamine purchase at the residence. The officer followed the informant to a location a short distance away from the residence and met the informant a short time later. The informant then handed the officer suspected methamphetamine, stating that he had purchased it from inside the defendant’s residence. The affidavit further stated that the informant has a criminal history and is a convicted felon.

The Court of Appeals stated that where the State seeks to establish probable cause based on information from an unidentified informant, the informant’s veracity and the basis for his or her knowledge are major considerations. The affidavit must include sufficient facts to allow the magistrate to independently determine the reliability of the informant or basis for the informant’s knowledge. If the informant is not shown to be reliable, the information he or she provides must be independently corroborated.

The Court of Appeals held that in this case, the affidavit did not contain sufficient facts to support the conclusion that the informant was inherently reliable. Specifically, the Court pointed out that this was the first narcotics investigation in which this informant had assisted police and there is no indication that the officers saw him either enter or exit the defendant’s residence.

Although the Court agreed that under Georgia law a controlled purchase of narcotics can substantially corroborate the reliability of an informant, in this case there was no evidence that the police either “controlled” or observed the alleged purchase.

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