Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-648-01) (Hon. Patricia A. Broderick, Trial Judge).
Submitted November 3, 2005
Before GLICKMAN and KRAMER, Associate Judges, and NEBEKER, Senior Judge.
The appellant challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, he claims that there was not probable cause to conduct the warrantless search and seizure that preceded his arrest, and therefore the evidence obtained from that allegedly unconstitutional search should be suppressed. We affirm.
Following his indictment on the charge of Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine, the appellant filed a motion seeking to suppress the evidence supporting the government's case. The sole witness at the suppression hearing was Park Police Officer Kurt Hansen. His testimony was that at around 4:30 p.m. on the day in question, a confidential informant had called and told him that he had just witnessed a drug sale inside of a market located at Seventh and O Streets, N.W., that the drugs were packaged in green bags, and that the seller was wearing a yellow hooded sweatshirt under a black jacket. At that point, Officer Hansen, who was in an undercover vehicle with another officer, drove to Seventh and O Streets, N.W. Upon their arrival, the officers parked in a nearby parking lot, and the informant got into their car. About a minute later, the appellant emerged from the Seventh and O Street Market, fitting the description previously given, and the informant identified the appellant to the officers as the seller. Officer Hansen then notified an arrest team who stopped and searched the appellant, finding several small green bags filled with crack cocaine in his hat.
At the motions hearing, Officer Hansen testified at length about his experience with the informant. That testimony was that over the course of the twelve months preceding the call in this case, he had worked with the informant on twenty-five cases and had found him to be reliable in all. Moreover, the informant had been working with the Park Police for approximately twenty years, and he had never given unreliable information, although not all of his information had resulted in an arrest. Officer Hansen testified that the informant was employed, that he was not on probation or parole, that he had no criminal convictions since 1985,*fn1 and that he did not abuse drugs or alcohol.
The informant had been paid fifty dollars for the information in this case.
At the conclusion of the hearing on the motion to suppress, the trial court denied the motion.*fn2 Subsequently, the appellant pleaded guilty, reserving his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence. See Super. Ct. Crim. R. 11 (a)(2) (2005). We affirm.
The appellant argues that the trial court erred in finding that probable cause existed for the search and seizure.In support of this position, the appellant contends:
(1) the informant mistakenly "indicated the suspect to be wearing a yellow hooded sweatshirt when in fact [the appellant] did not have on a yellow hooded sweatshirt, but a black jacket . . . . with a hood which was yellow colored;"
(2) "it is unknown how far away the informant was from the suspect when he allegedly observed this drug deal;" and (3) "the informant could not tell Hansen where [on his person] the suspect had placed the 'stash' [of drugs] after the alleged sale."
In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. (Dexter) Davis v. United States, 781 A.2d 729, 734 (D.C. 2001) (citing Flores v. United States, 769 A.2d 126, 129 (D.C. 2000)). "[T]he trial court's legal conclusion on probable cause," however, is reviewed de novo. Ball v. United States, 803 A.2d 971, 974 (D.C. 2002) (citing Green v. United States, 662 A.2d 1388, 1389 (D.C. 1995)). See also (Dexter) Davis, supra, 781 A.2d at 734.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Fruits of a warrantless search incident to an arrest are nonetheless permitted if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to arrest, "which arises when a reasonably prudent police officer, considering the total circumstances confronting him and drawing from his experience, would be warranted in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed." Nixon v. United States, 870 A.2d 100, 103 (D.C. 2005) (citing Peterkin v. United States, 281 A.2d 567, 568 (D.C. 1971)) (internal quotations omitted).
In reviewing whether an informant's tip provided probable cause, a judicial officer should consider the totality of the circumstances, taking into account "an informant's 'veracity,' 'reliability,' and 'basis of knowledge.'" Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 230-31 (1983). As we said in Parker v. United States, 601 A.2d 45, 49 (D.C. 1991), "Along with an informant's basis of knowledge of criminal activity, the informant's general credibility and the reliability of the information he ...