Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement
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Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement

Rolando V. del Carmen, Jeffery T. Walker

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eBook - ePub

Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement

Rolando V. del Carmen, Jeffery T. Walker

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About This Book

Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement, Tenth Edition, offers extensive updates on the leading Supreme Court cases impacting law enforcement in the United States, creating a must-have reference for police officers to stay up-to-date and have a strong understanding of the law and their function within it. All cases are briefed in a common format to allow for comparisons among cases and include facts, relevant issues, and the Court's decision and reasoning. The significance of each case is also explained, making clear its impact on citizens and law enforcement. The book provides students and practitioners with historical and social context for their role in criminal justice and the legal guidelines that should be followed in day-to-day policing activities.

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Public Law


“Probable cause” is the most important and most often used phrase in law enforcement. It is defined by the United States Supreme Court as more than bare suspicion; it exists when “the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.” Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949).
For purposes of day-to-day policing, probable cause is present if an officer has trustworthy evidence or information sufficient to make a “reasonable person” believe it is more likely than not that the proposed arrest or search is justified. Although never specifically stated in Supreme Court cases, in mathematical terms, probable cause exists if there is more than 50 percent certainty that the suspect has committed an offense or that the items sought can be found in a certain place.
Probable cause is used in four situations: arrests with a warrant, arrests without a warrant, searches of items with a warrant, and searches of items without a warrant. The definition of probable cause is the same in all four situations. The difference is the point at which an officer must justify the probable cause to the court (or judge). For arrests and searches with a warrant, a police officer has to prove probable cause before the warrant is issued. For arrests and searches without a warrant, the police officer has the burden of establishing probable cause in court if the validity of the arrest or search is later challenged.
Essentially, every case in this book has to do with probable cause. The cases in this chapter have a somewhat greater focus on probable cause itself rather than the arrest or search, and they contribute to an understanding of the meaning of probable cause. In reality, probable cause is subjective because its precise meaning may vary from one person to another. Probable cause is likely to be strengthened by quantity, in addition to quality, meaning that the more articulable reasons an officer has, the greater the likelihood that probable cause will be found by the courts. Police officers are therefore advised to articulate as many specific facts and circumstances as they can to justify the arrest or search.
The leading cases briefed in this chapter on probable cause are Draper v. United States and Illinois v. Gates. A more recent case is Devenpeck v. Alford, which held that there is no requirement in the Fourth Amendment for the offense establishing probable cause for an arrest to be “closely related” to and based on the same conduct as the offense identified by the officer.


358 U.S. 307 (1959)

CAPSULE: Information from an informant that is corroborated by an officer may be sufficient to provide probable cause for an arrest even if such information is hearsay.
FACTS: A narcotics agent received information from an informant who had previously proven himself reliable that Draper had gone to Chicago to bring three ounces of heroin back to Denver by train on the morning of either September 8 or 9. The informant also gave a detailed physical description of Draper, the clothes he would be wearing, and that he habitually “walked real fast.” Based on this information, police officers set up surveillance of all trains coming from Chicago. The morning of September 8 produced no one fitting the informant’s description. On the morning of September 9, officers observed an individual, who matched the exact description the informant had supplied, get off of a train from Chicago and begin to walk quickly toward the exit. Officers overtook the suspect and arrested him. Heroin and a syringe were seized in a search incident to the arrest. The informant died prior to the trial and was therefore unable to testify. Draper was convicted of knowingly concealing and transporting drugs.
ISSUE: Can information provided by an informant, which is subsequently corroborated by an officer, provide probable cause for an arrest without a warrant? YES.
SUPREME COURT DECISION: Information received from an informant, which is corroborated by an officer may be sufficient to provide probable cause for an arrest even though such information, if presented at trial, would be hearsay and would not otherwise be admissible in a criminal trial.
REASON: The informant who provided information to the agent had provided reliable information in the past. When the agent personally verified each element of the informant’s detailed description, except the part involving the possession of drugs, he developed probable cause to believe that the rest of the informant’s description was true.
CASE SIGNIFICANCE: The evidence from the informant in this case could be considered hearsay, which ordinarily is inadmissible in a criminal trial. The Court held, however, that it could be used to show probable cause for purposes of a search; thus, evidence that may not be admissible in a trial may be used by the police to establish probable cause. This is important because all information from an informant is considered hearsay as the basis for police action, but the police can act on such information as long as it is good enough to establish probable cause. The Court held that there was probable cause in this case because the information came from “one employed for that purpose and whose information had always been found accurate and reliable.” The Court added that “it is clear that [the police officer] would have been derelict in his duties had he not pursued it.”


462 U.S. 213 (1983)

CAPSULE: The two-pronged test for probable cause established in previous cases is superseded in favor of the “totality of circumstances” test.
FACTS: On May 3, 1978, the Bloomingdale, Illinois, police department received an anonymous letter stating that Gates and his wife were engaged in selling drugs, that the wife would drive her car to Florida on May 3 to be loaded with drugs, that Gates would fly to Florida and drive the car back to Illinois, that the trunk would be loaded with drugs, and that Gates had more than $100,000 worth of drugs in his basement. Acting on the tip, a police officer obtained Gates’ address and learned that he had made reservations for a May 5 flight to Florida. Arrangements for surveillance of the flight were made with an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The surveillance disclosed that Gates took the flight, stayed overnight in a hotel room registered in his wife’s name, and left the following morning with a woman in a car bearing an Illinois license plate, heading north. A search warrant for Gates’ house and automobile was obtained on the basis of the officer’s affidavit setting forth the foregoing facts and a copy of the anonymous letter. When Gates arrived at his home, the police were waiting. A search of the house and car revealed marijuana and other contraband. Gates was charged with violating state drug laws and was convicted.
ISSUE: Did the anonymous letter, partially corroborated by the officer, provide sufficient facts to establish probable cause for the issuance of a warrant? YES.
SUPREME COURT DECISION: The two-pronged test established under Aguilar v. Texas and Spinelli v. United States is superseded in favor of a “totality of circumstances” approach. The task of an issuing magistrate is to make a practical decision whether, given all the circumstances, there is a fair probability that the evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.
REASON: “Unlike a totality of circumstances analysis, which permits a balanced assessment of the relative weights of all the various indicia of reliability (and unreliability) attending an informant’s tip, the ‘two-pronged test’ has encouraged an excessively technical dissection of informants’ tips, with undue attention being focused on isolated issues that cannot sensibly be divorced from the other facts presented to the magistrate.”
CASE SIGNIFICANCE: The two-pronged test for establishing probable cause in cases in which information is given by an informant is modified and superseded by the “totality of circumstances” test, making it easier for police officers to establish probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. Under the two-pronged test as enunciated in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964), probable cause based on information obtained from an informant could be established only if the following were present: (1) reliability of the informant and (2) reliability of the informant’s information. Both conditions must have been satisfied before probable cause could be established. In contrast, under the “totality of circumstances” test, probable cause may be established if, based on all the circumstances (including hearsay), there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of crime will be found in a particular place. The Gates case still preserves the two-pronged test established in Aguilar, but it does not treat the two aspects separately and independently. Instead, the “totality of circumstances” approach is used, meaning that whatever deficiencies there may be in one prong can be supplemented or overcome by the other, together with other available evidence.


490 U.S. 1 (1989)

CAPSULE: The totality of circumstances can establish a reasonable suspicion, sufficient for officers to make an investigative stop without a warrant.
FACTS: Sokolow purchased two round-trip tickets for a flight from Honolulu to Miami under an assumed name. He paid for the tickets from a roll of $20 bills that appeared to contain about $4,000. He appeared nervous during the transaction. Neither he nor his companion checked any luggage. Additional investigation revealed that Sokolow had scheduled a return flight for three days later. Based on these facts, which fit a “drug courier profile” developed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), officers stopped the pair and took them to the DEA office at the airport where their luggage was examined by a drug detection dog. The examination indicated the presence of narcotics in one of Sokolow’s bags. Sokolow was arrested and a search warrant was obtained for the bag. No narcotics were found in the bag, but documents indicating involvement in drug trafficking were discovered. Upon a second search with the drug detection dog, narcotics were detected in another of Sokolow’s bags. Sokolow was released until a search warrant was obtained the next morning. A search of the bag revealed 1,063 grams of cocaine. Sokolow was again arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
ISSUE: Were the factors matching Sokolow to a “drug courier profile” sufficient to justify his stop and temporary detention, which preceded the search without a warrant? YES.
SUPREME COURT DECISION: Taken together, the circumstances in this case establish a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was transporting illegal drugs, and therefore the investigative stop without warrant was valid under the Fourth Amendment.
REASON: Under the decisions in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) and United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411 (1981), the totality of circumstances must be evaluated to determine reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop. Police officers may stop and briefly detain an individual to determine whether the person is involved in a criminal activity if the officer has reasonable suspicion, supported by articulable facts, that such activity is occurring.
CASE SIGNIFICANCE: This case addresses the issue of whether the use of “drug courier profiles” is valid under the Fourth Amendment. The Court said that there is nothing wrong with such use in this case because the facts, taken in totality, amounted to reasonable suspicion that criminal conduct was taking place. The Court indicated that whether the facts in this case fit a “profile” was less significant than the fact that, taken together, they establish a reasonable suspicion. In sum, the case appears to indicate that while a drug courier profile might be helpful, the totality of the circumstances is more important in establishing the legality of the stop and temporary detention that leads to a subsequent search.


543 U.S. 146 (2004)

CAPSULE: The Fourth Amendment does not require the offense establishing probable cause for an arrest to be “closely related” to and based on the same conduct as the offense identified by the officer during the initial encounter.
FACTS: Alford pulled behind a disabled vehicle, activating wig-wag headlights. A patrol car passing in the opposite direction turned around to assist. When the officer arrived on the scene, Alford hurriedly returned to his vehicle and drove away. The officer radioed his supervisor that he was concerned Alford was a police impersonator. The officer pursued Alford’s vehicle and pulled it over. Upon approaching Alford’s vehicle, the officer observed that Alford was listening to a police scanner and had handcuffs in the car. When the supervisor arrived, he questioned Alford and received evasive answers. He then noticed a tape recorder in the seat with the record button activated. Alford was removed from the vehicle and officers confirmed Alford was recording the c...

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Citation styles for Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement
APA 6 Citation
Carmen, R. del, & Walker, J. (2019). Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement (10th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)
Chicago Citation
Carmen, Rolando del, and Jeffery Walker. (2019) 2019. Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement. 10th ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Carmen, R. del and Walker, J. (2019) Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement. 10th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Carmen, Rolando del, and Jeffery Walker. Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement. 10th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.