Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-12-40035
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Lee W. Barry, III, Assistant County Attorney, Rebecca Stark Holschuh, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
William M. Ward, Hennepin County Public Defender, Paul J. Maravigli, Assistant Public Defender, Angela F. Bailey, Assistant Public Defender, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
In this appeal from a pretrial order suppressing evidence of drugs that police found in Darris Jackson's Trailblazer, the state argues that the police had probable cause to search under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement after receiving detailed information from a confidential reliable informant. Because the district court's decision will critically impact the state's ability to prosecute Jackson, we will review the pretrial order. And because the district court erred in its legal judgment by suppressing the evidence, we reverse.
Shortly before 9:30 p.m. on December 4, 2012, a confidential reliable informant sent a text message to Minneapolis police officer Jeffrey Werner informing the officer that he was the passenger in a car that contained crack cocaine that had just been obtained in a drug exchange. The informant sent another message saying that he and the drug dealer would soon travel from St. Paul to the Sheraton Hotel in South Minneapolis for another drug deal. The informant gave the officer the driver's first name (Darris), a description of Darris (black male, twenty-five to thirty years old, five feet ten inches tall, medium build, and a short afro), a description of the car (white Chevy Trailblazer with Minnesota license plates 600 JCY), and the location of the drugs within the vehicle (the glove compartment).
The informant sent another message to Officer Werner at around 10:00 p.m. saying that they were "en route" to the Sheraton. Officer Werner and other officers awaited them. Soon he noticed a white Chevy Trailblazer with Minnesota license plates 600 JCY traveling eastbound from Chicago Avenue and turning north on Elliot Avenue toward the Sheraton. It traveled past the Sheraton parking lot and continued on Elliot, a dead-end street. The Trailblazer then made a U-turn and headed south on Elliot.
Officer Werner directed the officers to stop the Trailblazer and take the occupants into custody. The officers found the informant and Darris Jackson inside and took them, and the Trailblazer, to the third precinct. Officers searched the Trailblazer's glove compartment and found more than twenty grams of crack cocaine. The state charged Jackson with second-degree controlled substance crime (possession), under Minnesota Statutes section 152.022, subdivision (2)(a)(1) (2012).
Jackson moved the district court to suppress the evidence of drugs found in his Trailblazer, arguing that the informant was not sufficiently reliable to justify the stop, arrest, and search. The district court conducted a hearing where Officer Werner testified that he had worked with the informant over the previous seven or eight months. The informant provided him with information twice, on one occasion leading to an arrest. The informant had never given false information to Officer Werner, and he had provided details about people and activity that Officer Werner had corroborated. Officer Werner justified searching the Trailblazer at the precinct rather than on the street near the stop based on concerns for officer safety.
Jackson claimed that when he arrived at the informant's house, the informant asked him for a ride to the Sheraton in Minneapolis to meet a woman. Jackson said he agreed to drive the informant to the Sheraton in exchange for gas money.
The district court determined that the informant was reliable but that the information that he provided lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to arrest Jackson. It therefore held that "[t]here was no probable cause supported by specific, articulable facts to warrant a stop" and that "[t]here was insufficient probable cause to stop and arrest [Jackson]." It concluded also that "the subsequent ...