The PA Superior Court recently decided the cases of Commonwealth v. Charles Howard Manuel No. 1048 MDA 2015 and Timothy Manuel, 1152 MDA 2015 (April 7, 2017), holding that the fact that a Confidential Informant (“CI”) previously provided information which led to a single arrest was insufficient to establish the CI’s credibility, particularly as there was no indication that the information previously provided proved to be correct and the current information was not sufficiently corroborated by the police.

Charles H. Manuel and Timothy A. Manuel (referred to collectively as “Appellants”) were each convicted, after a stipulated non-jury trial, of one count of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver marijuana (“PWID”).

The issue presented by their appeal was whether a search warrant – in which the reliability of a CI and the facts of criminal conduct that the CI provided the police had not been adequately corroborated – could supply the basis for either a search or an arrest.

Appellants asserted that the reliability of the CI was not established where the CI had previously provided information leading to only one arrest which had not, at the time the affidavit was executed in their case, led to a conviction. Specifically, they asserted that a solitary arrest not resulting in a criminal conviction is hardly deserving of automatic reliability veiled behind a cloak of secrecy for CIs. Additionally, they argued that the additional information obtained by the police fell short of the quantum and quality necessary to corroborate the CI’s information and establish his reliability.

The Superior Court first outlined the standards to be applied when determining if a search warrant issued on the bases of information obtained from a CI was supported by probable cause. In doing so, the Court acknowledged that a CI’s tip may constitute probable cause where police independently corroborate the tip; where the CI has provided accurate information of criminal activity in the past; or, where the informant himself participated in the criminal activity. When information is received from an informant whose reliability is not established, it may none-the-less be sufficient to create probable cause where there is some independent corroboration by police of the CI’s information. However, an “unadorned assertion” that a CI previously supplied information which prompted arrests is insufficient.

Here, the search warrant indicated that the CI previously provided information leading to one arrest, the disposition of which was still pending. However, police did not secure true corroboration of the inside information provided by the CI. Accordingly, the Superior Court recognized that, although information leading only to one arrest does not automatically deem the information provided in a case unreliable, the lack of substantial follow-up investigation by the police in this case “constrained” the appellate court to conclude that, under the totality of the circumstances, the affidavit did not establish probable cause.


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