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For police observation to constitute the verification that will establish probable cause and permit a warrantless search or arrest predicated upon data from an informer who has not revealed the basis for his knowledge, it is not enough that a number, even a large number, of details of noncriminal activity supplied by the informer be confirmed. Probable cause for such an arrest or search will have been demonstrated only when there has been confirmation of sufficient details suggestive of or directly related to the criminal activity informed about to make reasonable the conclusion that the informer has not simply passed along rumor, or is not involved (whether purposefully or as a dupe) in an effort to "frame" the person informed against.
Steve Elwell was convicted by the trial court of criminal possession of a handgun after his motion to suppress was denied. Elwell was driving in a vehicle which was stopped as a result of a tip from an informant. The gun was found in the vehicle. Elwell’s motion to suppress was denied and he pleaded guilty. The decision not to suppress was reversed on appeal where Elwell challenged the warrantless stop and search of his vehicle. The State was granted leave to appeal.
Is a warrantless search permissible on the basis of information supplied without any indication of how the informant acquired his knowledge when the police have been able to confirm by their own inquiry and observation details supplied by the informant which are personal in nature and not in any way suggestive of criminal activity?
The court held that the making of a warrantless search or arrest could be based upon hearsay information, but the officer had to be informed of the underlying circumstances from the informant to conclude that there was criminal activity. Since the basis of the informant's knowledge was not given, personal police observation corroborating the data received from the informant was regarded as sufficient only if the police had observed facts suggesting criminal activity. Since the police had not seen any such actions by defendant, the stop and search of defendant's vehicle was wrongful and the gun should have been suppressed.