Federal Court Reverses Drug Conviction Based on Faulty Police Affidavit

affidavit, appeal, Chicago criminal defense attorneyPolice often use confidential sources to get information in drug investigations. When a source identifies a suspect, police must still obtain a proper search warrant from a judge before acting upon the information. It is incumbent upon the officer to file an affidavit with the court explaining his or her use of a confidential source and furnishing sufficient information regarding the source’s credibility. Failure to do so may result in a trial or appellate court rejecting the evidence gathered from the warrant.

Reversed Convictions from 2010 Case

Recently a federal appeals court in Chicago reversed the convictions of an accused drug dealer based on a faulty police affidavit. The appeals court emphasized that it was a “close” call but found the police had failed to provide any meaningful information regarding the credibility of an informant who was instrumental in the defendant’s identification and arrest.

The case began in 2010 when a Chicago police officer filed an affidavit with a federal magistrate. According to the affidavit, a confidential source told the officer there was a man selling heroin and in possession of unlicensed firearms. The affidavit failed to provide any information about the informant or his credibility. Specifically, the officer failed to tell the magistrate the informant was himself affiliated with a gang and had 14 prior criminal convictions, among other things.

Nonetheless, the magistrate granted the warrant, which led to the arrest, trial and conviction of the defendant on charges of illegal possession of heroin and illegal possession of a firearm as part of a drug trafficking operation. The defendant appealed his convictions, arguing the evidence used to convict him was seized on the basis of a defective search warrant.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals focused on just one issue: whether or not the warrant contained sufficient collaboration of the confidential source’s credibility. The appeals court found the police officer’s “complete omission of known, highly relevant, and damaging information about [the source's] credibility” deprived the magistrate of sufficient information to make a proper decision regarding the justification for a warrant.

That said, the magistrate did issue a warrant, and under most circumstances, police and prosecutors can still use evidence seized in “good faith” based on a seemingly valid warrant. In this case, however, the 7th Circuit said the defendant was entitled to a hearing on whether the police “acted with reckless disregard for the truth” in failing to disclose the source’s criminal past to the magistrate. If so, the good faith exception would not apply. The appeals court took no position on the merits of this argument, but rather returned the case to a trial court for further proceedings.

These types of cases highlight the importance of having an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney. If you or someone you know is facing drug or other serious criminal charges, contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today.

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