COA rules lack of probable cause for warrant makes evidence inadmissible

February 25, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday that a probable cause affidavit allowing police to search the home of a man suspected of manufacturing methamphetamine did not establish a confidential informant’s credibility and lacked probable cause. The majority also concluded that the good-faith exception would not be applicable in David Cartwright’s case.

Cartwright was convicted of several felonies relating to the manufacture of methamphetamine after police searched his Posey County home in March 2013. The probable cause affidavit for the search warrant was based on detective Jeremy Fortune’s meeting with a confidential informant in the county jail. That person told Fortune that someone he knew as “Dave” was making meth in the county, he bought the drug off of him three or four months ago, and he identified the location of the home on a map. Fortune four years prior had tried to obtain a search warrant for the same home – that of Cartwright – after driving by and smelling ammonia, but the warrant was denied for lack of probable cause.

This time, the magistrate issued a search warrant for Cartwright’s property based on the affidavit that included the CI’s information. He left out in the probable cause affidavit that the CI was in jail on a warrant for a drug charge in Illinois.

The search warrant led to a discovery of digital scales, firearms and other evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing. Cartwright admitted to making meth, but not selling it. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the search warrant, but that was denied.

He claimed on appeal that all of the evidence resulting from the search of the house is inadmissible because there was no probable cause to issue the search warrant in the first place. The Court of Appeals agreed in David B. Cartwright v. State of Indiana, 65A01-1404-CR-170. Fortune did not adequately determine the credibility of the CI in the probable cause affidavit. Uncorroborated hearsay from a source whose credibility is unknown, standing alone, cannot support a finding of probable cause to issue a search warrant, Senior Judge Carr Darden wrote. The majority declined to apply the good-faith exception, finding it inapplicable because Fortune’s affidavit was so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render an official belief in the existence of the warrant unreasonable. The majority reversed and remanded with instructions.

Judge John Baker dissented, agreeing that the affidavit did not establish the CI’s credibility and lacked probable cause, but that the good-faith exception should apply in this case.


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