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Court Addresses “Collective Knowledge” Doctrine in Virginia Drug Case

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2021 | Drug Crimes

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his Virginia drug conviction. The case involved the “collective knowledge” doctrine, as it applies to searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to the court’s opinion, a confidential informant (CI), concerned with her daughter’s involvement with drugs, began communicating with a police investigator. The investigator testified that the CI stated that she shared a vehicle with her daughter that they agreed no one else could operate. The CI purchased a GPS tracking device and would contact the investigator to notify him of the car’s location.

On one occasion, the woman contacted the investigator and told him that the tracker showed the vehicle was at a motel; however, her daughter was in jail. The investigator was off-duty but went to the location to conduct surveillance. Upon reaching the location, he noticed that the woman’s car was empty, but two people were sitting in the SUV next to the vehicle. One of the individuals was the person the CI’s daughter was involved in drug transactions with, and the other was the defendant. The investigator contacted police dispatchers and told them to send an officer to address suspicious activity occurring in the vehicle. When police arrived, they discovered drugs.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence arguing that the officer’s stop violated the Fourth Amendment. He stated that the investigator did not have a reasonable articulable suspicion to conduct an investigation, and that the officer unlawfully acted on the investigator’s hunch. Further, he argued that the investigator’s knowledge could not be imputed on the officer under the “collective knowledge doctrine.”

Under the collective knowledge doctrine, “an officer is justified in acting upon instruction from another officer,” if the initial officer had sufficient knowledge to make a lawful arrest of a target. In this case, after finding that the investigator possessed the requisite knowledge to make an arrest, the court examined whether the collective knowledge doctrine applied. The defendant argued that the doctrine does not allow an officer to go above and beyond the action of the directing officer’s instructions. Here, the court reasoned that the investigator’s subjective intention for the encounter did not negate whether the officer’s stop was reasonable. Therefore, because the investigator possessed enough knowledge to conduct a brief detention and properly imputed that knowledge to the officer, they concluded that the collective knowledge could correctly be applied.

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