"After an informant details an ongoing criminal enterprise and leads the police to her potential co-conspirators, can a magistrate find that her tip establishes a 'fair probability' that evidence of the crime will be found where she suggests?"
Police confronted Marsha Stovall after she tried to cash a suspicious check. A search of her person revealed several pieces of identifying information belonging to several different people. After her arrest, she gave a statement. She explained that a nearby motel room occupied by her, Elrod, his wife, and their children contained computers, printers, and stolen mail used to create counterfeit checks, licenses, and social security cards. Officers were able to confirm the presence of computers, printers, and a man named "Gordon" when they knocked on the motel room door. Based on this information, the magistrate issued a search warrant for the room. Elrod was indicted for fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and two counts of tampering with a governmental record.
The trial court granted Elrod's motions to suppress and the court of appeals affirmed. It determined that Stovall was not shown to be credible because she enjoyed no presumption of reliability, the details in her statement did nothing to establish it, she made no statements against her penal interest, and her statement was not corroborated. This last point was based on the dates and times in the affidavit that placed the officers' visit to the motel ahead of Stovall's statement.
The State argues the affidavit was sufficient for three reasons. First, Stovall's story was corroborated; regardless of whether the dates and times written in the affidavit were typos (as the magistrate was entitled to find given the context), there is no legal difference between 1) corroborating the officers' visit to the motel with her statement, and 2) corroborating the statement with their visit. Second, Stovall's statement was highly detailed, which strongly implied credible, direct knowledge. Third, her statement was clearly against her penal interest because it detailed an ongoing criminal enterprise. Moreover, she did so without any quid pro quo.