The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects Virginia residents from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. In the context of criminal law, the Fourth Amendment generally requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant from a judge before performing a search to investigate criminal activity. The warrant requirement does have exceptions that allow police officers to legally perform a search without a warrant. The breadth of these exceptions is constantly in dispute, as evidenced by a recent decision by the Virginia Court of Appeals which affirmed a defendant’s conviction even though police officers searched his vehicle without a warrant.
The defendant in the recently decided case was arrested after he was set up in a “sting” operation. The police had obtained an informant who notified them that the defendant was a substantial narcotics distributor in the region. Under the supervision of the police, the informant phoned the defendant and set up a meeting to purchase a large quantity of methamphetamine and a firearm. Upon meeting the informant, ploice detained the defendant and searched his vehicle. The search revealed drugs and a firearm, and the defendant was arrested for multiple offenses.
Before trial, the defendant challenged the admission of the evidence found in the search of his vehicle, arguing that the police did not have adequate exigent circumstances or probable cause to perform a warrantless search. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and he was ultimately convicted of the charges and sentenced to over 20 years in prison. The defendant then appealed the trial court’s evidentiary ruling to the Virginia Court of Appeals.
The appellate court rejected the defendant’s arguments on appeal, ruling that the state did not need to prove any exigent circumstances to justify the search of his vehicle. The court further ruled that the police had probable cause to search the vehicle based on the informant’s tip, which they reasonably believed to be reliable. Because the police ensured the informant was reliable by cross-checking his other statements to known facts, the court found that they had probable cause to search the defendant’s truck without getting a warrant. Based on the appellate ruling, the defendant will be serving his time as sentenced.
Challenging Informant Testimony in a Criminal Case
If you have been charged with a drug crime based on a tip or testimony of an informant, you can fight back. Police and prosecutors love informant tips and testimony because it makes their jobs easier, however, informants are notoriously unreliable. At Robinson Law, we know how to challenge both the admission and the credibility of informant testimony. If prosecutors cannot admit the testimony of their informant, the case often falls apart. Our Virginia criminal defense lawyers represent clients charged with all VA crimes, including drug and weapons charges. If you’ve been accused of a crime, call 703-542-3616 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our attorneys today.