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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Search Warrant For Drug Dealer's Residence And Clarifies Standards For Search Warrants Generally

 

"The Supreme Court's decision recognizes the realities facing law enforcement officers who must make tough decisions about who they can believe," says Van Hollen.  "Confidential informants and their contacts are an essential source of information and the Milwaukee Police Department made the right call in this case."

 

MADISON - In a decision issued earlier today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that a search warrant for a drug dealer's house can be based upon hearsay information provided by a third-party purchaser to a confidential informant whose statements are relied upon to establish probable cause for the warrant.  The decision in State v. Romero, Case No. 2007AP1139-CR, affirms the conviction of Jamie Romero on drug trafficking charges for more than 40 grams of cocaine.

 

In July 2006, a confidential informant told the Milwaukee Police Department that a person he met ("Mr. X") said he could get the informant cocaine from a third person.  The police set up a "controlled buy" and followed the confidential informant as he picked up Mr. X and drove to Romero's residence.  The confidential informant later told  police that he heard Mr. X call a person he referred to as "Jaime" to set up the purchase of cocaine.  The police saw Romero come out of the front door of the residence, motion Mr. X toward a garage at the back of the house, and walk in that direction himself.  Police then saw Mr. X go into the garage, and then come out and head back to the confidential informant's car. In the car, Mr. X gave the confidential informant a substance later proven to be cocaine. Based on the confidential informant's account, the Milwaukee Police Department obtained and executed a search warrant for Romero's residence.   The police found cocaine and guns, and Romero was charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine. 

 

Before the circuit court, Romero argued that the evidence found at his residence should be excluded because the warrant was not supported by "probable cause" to believe that illegal drugs could be found at Romero's residence.  In particular, he argued that the information provided by Mr. X to the confidential informant was not shown to be sufficiently reliable.  The circuit court disagreed and refused to suppress the evidence.   

 

Romero appealed to the Court of Appeals which held that the search warrant was invalid because the reliability of Mr. X had not been sufficiently established.  In particular, the Court of Appeals noted that Mr. X was not known to police and had not  given accurate information in the past. 

 

The State petitioned the Supreme Court for review, which led to today's decision reversing the Court of Appeals. In upholding the validity of the search warrant, the Supreme Court held that the "totality of the circumstances" established probable cause that drugs would be found inside Romero's residence.  The Court's opinion also clarified that the reliability of Mr. X was sufficiently shown because there had been some corroboration of his statements to the confidential informant that the drugs came from Romero, and some reason to believe that Mr. X was telling the truth.

 

Today's decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court may be found at the court's website:


http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=36415

 

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office litigated the case in the circuit court.  The Wisconsin Attorney General represents the State in all felony appeals in both the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Assistant Attorney General Michael Losse represented the State in this case both in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.