Police officers often collect evidence used in later criminal prosecutions after using search warrants to examine various places, like homes and cars. However, there are specific rules about when it is proper for officers to obtain those warrants from a judge. If a warrant is obtained without sufficient probable cause than the search is improper and the evidence found via the search cannot be used in a trial.
Earlier this year the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in State v. Haidle held that multiple levels of hearsay are not sufficient to support a constitutionally valid search warrant. Therefore, any evidence obtained using that search warrant could not be used.
In this case the decomposed body of a woman was found in a remote area with signs that she had been killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. Over ten months later, the police received tips from a confidential source and two concerned citizens that the defendant admitted to at least one person that he killed the woman.
The police obtained a search warrant for the man's home and truck. They found a bloody t-shirt that was too small for him and a piece of living room carpet containing bloodstains that had apparently been cleaned. Using this evidence, the police then obtained a warrant for the defendant's DNA. After the blood on the carpet matched the victim's, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Before trial, the defendant sought to suppress all the evidence obtained as a result of the search of his home. He argued that the police failed to obtain probable cause for the warrant. The district court agreed that the police did not have probable cause, but allowed the evidence because it would inevitably be discovered anyway. The defendant appealed this determination, and the issue went to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The New Mexico Supreme Court determined that the affidavit used to support the warrant included both hearsay information from unnamed informants and nonhearsay evidence gathered independently by the police. New Mexico Rules of Criminal Procedure address the use of hearsay for a basis of probable cause for a warrant. The Court in Haidle quoted those rules stating:
Rule 5-211(E) NMRA provides that when a showing of probable cause depends in whole or in part on hearsay information, the affidavit must show "a substantial basis for believing the source of the hearsay to be credible and for believing that there is a factual basis for the information furnished."
The court found that the hearsay information did not provide any evidence of truthfulness because there was no indication that the sources had provided reliable information in the past or made statements against their own interest. In short, there was no basis for the court to find unnamed sources reliable and trustworthy.
The Supreme Court then had to address whether the evidence would have inevitably been discovered, even without the warrant. First, the court rejected what it termed the "we-could-have-done-it-lawfully-so-it-doesn't-matter-that-we-didn't view." The court found that there was nothing in the record that would indicate the bloody carpet would have been discovered without the warrant. Furthermore, allowing the police to use the inevitable discovery doctrine would make the probable cause requirement meaningless.
The court then concluded that the inevitable discovery doctrine would not apply in this case. The Court's language seemed to go further though it did not outright state that the inevitable discovery rule did not apply in New Mexico.
The Court anticipated the sour feeling one might have after reading the Court's opinion. It appears that justice was denied. And many will use cases like this to attack the courts, the rules of evidence, the exclusionary rule, and of course, criminal defense attorney. However, keep in mind the words from the U.S. Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Ohio as quoted by the Court in Haidle, "[n]othing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws..."
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