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Law School Case Brief

People v. Bigelow - 66 N.Y.2d 417, 497 N.Y.S.2d 630, 488 N.E.2d 451 (1985)

Rule:

Probable cause does not require proof sufficient to warrant a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt but merely information sufficient to support a reasonable belief that an offense has been or is being committed or that evidence of a crime may be found in a certain place. The legal conclusion is to be made after considering all of the facts and circumstances together. Viewed singly, these may not be persuasive, yet when viewed together the puzzle may fit and probable cause found.

Facts:

On Dec. 26, 1981 while driving in the Village of Arcade, New York, defendant Richard James Bigelow was arrested without a warrant and his automobile seized. Based on an informant's statement that defendant was a cocaine dealer, police intercepted defendant as he was driving away from a known drug dealer's apartment, held him at the police station, and impounded his car until a search warrant was executed 30 minutes later. The warrant authorized police to search defendant and his car for cocaine. Police found amphetamines, hypodermic needles, and cash in the car but no cocaine. Defendant was formally arrested. He was subsequently charged and convicted in New York state court of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of hypodermic needles. At trial, defendant filed a motion suppress the evidence before pleading guilty. At the suppression hearing, the court found probable cause for the arrest and the search based on evidence known to the police through their investigation and on hearsay information supplied to them by an informant. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the judgment, granted the motion to suppress and remitted the matter to county court for further proceedings on the indictment. The Appellate Division found probable cause lacking for both the arrest and the search because the police failed to demonstrate the informant's basis of knowledge under the Aguilar-Spinelli rules applicable to the evaluation of hearsay. The court noted, however, that it would find the warrant application sufficient under the "totality of the circumstances" test.

Issue:

Was there probable cause present to justify the arrest and search?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state's highest court affirmed the Appellate Division's decision. The evidence in the record did not support a finding of probable cause for the arrest or the search because the informant's statement contained no allegations that the information was based on personal observation and did not describe defendant's activities with sufficient particularity to warrant an inference of personal knowledge. The State failed to show that the police informant had a basis for the knowledge he transmitted to the police; therefore, no probable cause for the arrest or the search existed.

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