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Law School Case Brief

People v. Johnson - 66 N.Y.2d 398, 497 N.Y.S.2d 618, 488 N.E.2d 439 (1985)

Rule:

Probable cause may be supplied, in whole or part, through hearsay information, but before probable cause based on hearsay is found it must appear that the informant has some basis of knowledge for the information he transmitted to the police and that the information is reliable. 

Facts:

On March 3, 1982, Raymundo Alcantara was shot and killed during the attempted robbery of his grocery store in The  Bronx. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Di Prospro told officers questioning him on an unrelated charge that Bolivar Abreu was the shooter in the Alcantara homicide. This information was passed along to Detective Ernest Wieting who questioned Abreu. At first Abreu denied any knowledge of the Alcantara homicide but he subsequently implicated Di Prospro and defendant Melvin Johnson by describing a conversation he witnessed between them during which they discussed the crime. Abreu also stated that he and others traded a rifle for a .38 caliber revolver (presumably the revolver used in the crime) two months earlier and he identified other robberies committed by defendant and Di Prospro. After obtaining this statement, Detective Wieting arrested defendant and Di Prospro. At the time of the arrest, defendant had not been identified through a photo array or a lineup, and no other individuals had implicated him. The arrest was based solely on Abreu's statement. After trial in New York state court, defendant was convicted by a jury of felony murder and related crimes arising from the aforementioned slaying. Defendant moved to suppress his post-arrest statements in which he confessed to the crime, but the suppression court found probable cause for defendant's arrest and denied his motion. The Appellate Division affirmed, without opinion. On appeal, defendant contended that the arrest was unlawful because the police acted solely upon hearsay information given by Abreu. On the other hand, the prosecution contended that the information given was reliable, corroborated, and supplied probable cause under the totality of the circumstances.

Issue:

Was defendant's arrest lawful where it was based solely upon information given by an informant, who was an un-indicted suspect in defendant's alleged crime?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals of New York concluded that defendant's arrest was unlawful and the two statements were illegally obtained. According to the court, the information supplied by Abreu, the informant, was not reliable and did not provide the probable cause necessary to conduct a warrantless arrest. Thus, the order of the appellate division was reversed, the motion to suppress was granted, and the case was remitted to the trial court for further proceedings on the indictment.

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