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On April 5, 2000 at around five in the evening

On April 5, 2000 at around five in the evening, a Johnson City Police Department Officer got a call from a confidential informant who was well known to the officer. He had provided reliable information in the past that had proven valuable in the prosecution of several cases that were both misdemeanors and felonies.

The informant told the police officer that a black male who was known by the street name of “Rabbit” was on his way to a third floor apartment at 20 Willow Street to sell cocaine. The informant stated that Rabbit drove a reddish-brown Volvo. The officer and his partner went to 20 Willow Street which was just down the street from the Police Department at 42 Willow Street. At around five in the evening, they got another call from the informant who stated that Rabbit did not get off work until six and that he would go there from work.

The officers were familiar from other investigations that Rabbit was selling cocaine in Johnson City and that he drove a reddish Volvo. In fact, the officers had made controlled purchases of cocaine from Rabbit. They did not know Rabbit’s real name and only knew him by sight. They knew that he got off work anytime between six and eight in the evening. They also had information that he had moved out of Johnson City and was living in Binghamton. At court, the officer admitted that he did not know what the basis was for the informant having this information. He stated that it may have come from someone else.

Shortly after six in the evening, a reddish Volvo pulled up and the officers recognized Rabbit driving. He was alone in the car. Both officers were undercover in street clothes and wore their badges on chains around their necks. Their car was also unmarked. The officers approached the Volvo with their guns drawn with one officer on each side of the car. As the officer on the drivers’ side approached the defendant, he noticed that there was a portion of a plastic bag visible on the front seat from the driver’s hand. The officer ordered the defendant to “drop it.” The contents of the bag were tested and proved positive for cocaine.

The issues of law in this case are whether the cocaine should be suppressed under the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule states that any evidence that is obtained in the course of an illegal search must be excluded from court as a matter of law. The defense maintains that since the officers approached with guns drawn, they were affecting a warrantless arrest based on the information given by the informant. In order to affect any arrest, an officer must have probable cause that would lead a normal and rational man to believe that a crime is, has, or will be committed and that the person being arrested is significantly involved in that crime. In this case, since there was no information on how the informant had come upon his information, there was no probable cause to execute an arrest.

The city then argued that there was reasonable suspicion to execute the traffic stop, at which time, the baggy was seen which constituted probable cause to make the arrest. The court contends that since there was no information to lead anyone to believe that Rabbit was armed, the approach by the officers with guns drawn constituted an arrest. The fact that he was handcuffed before being frisked was viewed as compounding the arrest. Since there was no probable cause to make the arrest at that point, the arrest is not legal and the cocaine was suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree.

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