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Update of Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana Case involving Confidential Informant

Maryland Criminal Attorney Last month I blogged about a Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana Case that I was handling in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City that involved a Confidential Informant. I wrote that in many cases involving the Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin or other controlled dangerous substances, the police have utilized a confidential informant known in the street vernacular as a snitch. In the case I was handling I believed that I could force the disclosure of the informant’s identity because I believed that the person may have been the brother of the person whom my client was with when he was arrested. I filed a written motion based on the facts as laid out in the statement of charges. Unfortunately, a Criminal Defense Attorney never really knows what the facts will be in their entirety until the police officers get on the stand and testify because they invariably add facts that were not in the charging document. This makes it somewhat difficult to prepare for these cases because, again the attorney doesn’t know the complete factual scenario until the court date when the motion has to be argued. As a reminder, the facts as laid out in the statement of charges is a follows:

Detectives allege that they were contacted by a registered confidential informant “during the month of February 8, March 8” and advised that “large sums of illegal narcotics were being transported and sold along the Northern Parkway corridor.” The registered informant allegedly further advised that a “2dr. Acura Legend bearing a Virginia #*#@$% was transporting illegal narcotics in this vehicle.” On March 4, 2008 Detectives allege that they spotted this vehicle traveling in the 5500 block of Laurelton Avenue. Acting solely on the tip of the Confidential Informant the detectives initiated a traffic stop. The driver of the vehicle was identified as Lamont and the passenger was identified as the defendant, Troy. The detectives claim that upon approaching the vehicle they smelled an odor of “freshly burnt marijuana” coming from the vehicle. The detectives also claim to have seen a zip lock bag containing marijuana in plain view on the center console. Based on these observations the detectives ordered the occupants from the vehicle and allegedly advised them of their Miranda rights. The driver was asked if he had anything illegal on his person and the detectives allege that he stated “yes some weed”. He was then searched and recovered from his pocket was approximately 15 grams of marijuana. Troy was then allegedly asked the same question to which he allegedly responded “”I don’t have anything on me, you can check”. Troy denies making this statement. The detectives then searched Troy and allegedly recovered $1415.00 dollars in U.S. currency. The detectives then called in a K-9 Unit and allege that the K-9 alerted on the truck area of the automobile. Recovered from the trunk was approximately 3 pounds of marijuana. The detectives then allege that Troy made the unsolicited statement, “the 3 pounds of marijuana, belonged to me”. ” I get the marijuana from one person and sell it to another person for about $200 profit”. Troy denies making this statement. Troy was arrested. Lamont was not arrested.

At the hearing on the motion to disclose the identity of the confidential informant and the motion to suppress the following “facts” were added by the detectives:

The detectives now claim that my client admitted that the car was his but was registered to his wife. They also produced a registration card that they recovered from the vehicle bearing the name of a woman with the same last name as him. Fortunately, the judge quickly ruled that State could not introduce either the statement or the document because neither had been produced in discovery as required by the Maryland Rules.

In an opening statement on the motion I advised the court that my argument was that, although I agreed that the informant was a “mere tipster” and not a participant in the transaction, which makes the privilege that the State was asserting to keep his identity confidential much stronger, the privilege is still not absolute. I argued that if I am correct as to the identity of the informant, that is that it is Lamont’s brother, then this gives the police a clear motive to fabricate the statement that they attributed to him acknowledging ownership of the marijuana because they would want to protect the relationship with the informant. The State then had the arresting detective testify that he had not disclosed the identity of Informant to his partners who also heard the alleged statement and argued that those detectives would not have the motivation to lie because they were unaware of the identity of the informant at the time they allegedly heard my client make the incriminating statement. The judge then said that she wanted to hear from the other detectives. Both testified that they did not know the identity at the time but one testified that he was now aware of who the informant is. The other said he still did not know the informant’s identity but his testimony was directly contradicted by the other two, both of whom testified that he had been subsequently told. The court then ruled that even though the privilege is stronger when applied to “mere tipsters” than when applied to participants, the privilege is not absolute. She then ruled that even if the two detectives were not aware of the informant’s identity at the time they heard the statement, they were aware of the identity now. She also noted, that as I pointed out, neither of the other detectives had filed a report stating that they heard the statement and they were not specifically noted as having heard it in the charging document. The judge found that they had the same motivation to fabricate the statement at the trial as does the arresting detective and ordered the disclosure of the identity of the informant. The State then dismissed the case rather than disclosing the identity.