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A Tipster’s Description is Equal to Probable Cause

June 24, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law - Probable Cause

The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial decision last month, ruling that police were within their rights to arrest a previously unidentified suspect based on a tipster’s description. The trial judge had previously suppressed the evidence that led to the suspect’s arrest, and New Jersey criminal attorneys say that the decision made by the Appellate Division will most likely affect the outcome of the original trial decision.

In State v. Dority, A-4017-11, the Appellate Division decided that a specific tip-off detailing the time and place that a suspect would be is enough to establish probable cause for an arrest. In March of 2010, Phillipsburg police acted on a search warrant that allowed them to comb through the home of William Joe, a suspected street level drug distributer. After Joe was arrested, he agreed to cooperate with police by setting up one of his drug dealers, who had been selling him cocaine regularly over the last few months.

During the following investigation, Detective James McDonald, with authorization from the prosecutor, listened in on calls made between Joe and the suspected drug dealer, Don Dority. Joe asked Dority to deliver 30 grams of crack cocaine, but the dealer countered his demand, offering to bring 7 grams of powder cocaine to Joe’s house. Based on their conversation, McDonald put police officers in place to intercept the delivery.

Joe described the car Dority—depicted as a six-foot-tall male with green eyes and curly black hair—would be driving as a red Ford Taurus with a Pennsylvania license plate and dark, tinted windows. Working with this description, the police waited for Dority to arrive. Joe convinced the dealer to drive by the house after the initial drop-off, and officers pinpointed the car Joe had described and surrounded it. Although the police were unable to positively identify the driver as Dority due to the vehicle’s dark windows, they used Joe’s earlier description of the car to order Dority out of the car and place him under arrest. When Dority exited, officers found cocaine on him, and charged him with two third-degree drug counts, New Jersey criminal lawyers report.  

Dority moved to suppress the evidence the officers found at the time of his arrest, and pleaded not guilty. At his 2012 trial, Superior Court Judge Ann Bartlett granted the motion to suppress, claiming that Dority’s arrest was unlawful. She ruled that the police officers had no probable cause in arresting the man before properly identifying him through the car’s dark windows. Bartlett argued the police did not have probable cause because the officers arrested Dority before he had a chance to deliver the drugs, or exhibit criminal behavior.

But upon review, the Appellate Division ruled that the cocaine sale was a dangerous transaction, and the officers on the scene had probable cause to arrest Dority before he left his car. They had no obligation to wait until the transaction was completed before making a move against the drug dealer, and could act on the veracity of the tipster, and the reliability of his tip. 

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, the experienced criminal attorneys offer consultation and representation to anyone who is facing criminal charges and may have been arrested without legitimate probable cause.

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