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Law School Case Brief

People v. Griminger - 71 N.Y.2d 635, 529 N.Y.S.2d 55, 524 N.E.2d 409 (1988)


As a matter of state constitutional law, the Aguilar-Spinelli two-prong test should be applied in determining whether there is a sufficient factual predicate upon which to issue a search warrant. 


Special agents of the United States Secret Service arrested a counterfeiting suspect, and, in the course of interrogation, he signed a detailed statement accusing defendant Stewart A. Griminger of keeping large quantities of marihuana and cocaine in his bedroom and adjacent attic. Consequently, one of the agents prepared an affidavit for a warrant to search defendant's home. Although the agent did not personally know the counterfeiting suspect, his affidavit said that the undisclosed informant was "a person known to your deponent." A warrant was executed and the search produced 10 ounces of marijuana, over $ 6,000 in cash and drug-related paraphernalia. At trial in New York state court, defendant sought to suppress the marijuana and other evidence on the basis that the search warrant was based upon hearsay information of a confidential informant. However, although the court found that the agent's affidavit failed to satisfy the "reliability" prong of the Aguilar-Spinelli test, it concluded that the Gates totality-of-the-circumstances test should be applied in assessing the sufficiency of a search warrant and, finding probable cause, refused to suppress the marijuana. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of marihuana in the second degree, criminal possession of marihuana in the third degree, and criminal sale of marihuana in the fourth degree. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.


Was it proper for the court to apply the Gates totality-of-the-circumstances test in determining the sufficiency of an affidavit submitted in support of a search warrant application?




The appellate court found that the marihuana seized upon the execution of the search warrant should have been suppressed because the search warrant was based upon hearsay information of a confidential informant and the supporting affidavit for the search warrant did not satisfy the reliability prong of the Aguilar-Spinelli two-prong test. The court held that refusal to suppress the evidence was an error because in evaluating hearsay information, the magistrate was required to find some minimum reasonable showing that the informant was reliable and had a base of knowledge. Because the reliability prong of the test was not satisfied, the warrant was not valid, and the marihuana was the fruit of an illegal search. As a result, defendant's convictions were reversed and the matter was remanded for further proceedings.

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