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Challenges to search warrant rejected

State v. Andrew Anton Sabo, 2017AP2289-CR, District 1, 1/29/19 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Sabo challenges the search warrant that led to the seizure of evidence from his home, arguing that the affidavit in support of the warrant didn’t establish probable cause, that he is entitled to a Franks-Mann hearing because the affidavit contained false information, and that the identity of the citizen informant who was the source of much of the information in the affidavit should be disclosed because there are reasons to doubt the informant’s reliability and credibility. The court of appeals disagrees.

Sabo’s challenges are intertwined in that they all rely on his claim the informant was not shown to be reliable and credible. There’s a relaxed test of reliability for citizen informants, which looks at “observational reliability” rather than “personal reliability,” State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶36, 241 Wis. 2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 106, and considers “‘the nature of [the informant’s] report, [the informant’s] opportunity to hear and see the matters reported, and the extent to which it can be verified by independent police investigation,’” State v. Kolk, 2006 WI App 261, ¶13, 298 Wis. 2d 99, 726 N.W.2d 337 (quoted source omitted).

¶18     Here, the trial court concluded that the informant met this test of reliability. The court found that the details provided by the informant relating to the description of the handgun Sabo possessed, as well as regarding the processing and packaging of cocaine, were sufficiently specific to support a determination of credibility. Furthermore, the court recognized that this information had been independently verified by [the investigating officer] in his subsequent identification of Sabo and his previous criminal record, and the officer’s observation of Sabo at the address provided by the informant. These findings are supported by the record and were properly evaluated using the relevant law relating to the reliability of a citizen informant.

Nor did the alleged errors in the affidavit show deliberate falsehoods or reckless disregard for the truth, State v. Anderson, 138 Wis. 2d 451, 462, 406 N.W.2d 398 (1987). Sabo argued the informant referred to him by a nickname he’s not known by, inaccurately described Sabo’s pistol, didn’t provide information about the surveillance cameras, and wasn’t seen on the surveillance cameras during the time the informant claimed to have visited Sabo. (¶20). He also claimed the informant was actually a 911 caller and that the investigating officer falsified a general tip about drugs and guns using information from the police data base; he supported this claim with an affidavit from the purported 911 caller (later arrested for murder and kidnapping in Texas). (¶12).

¶21    …. [T]he trial court recognized that some details in the affidavit may have been purposefully vague in order to avoid the possibility of identification of the informant. Additionally, … the trial court reviewed the information relating to the 911 caller and determined that it was not sufficient to warrant a Franks-Mann hearing. The court found that the caller was not a credible source to demonstrate that there were deliberate false statements included in the affidavit. These findings are reasonable based on the facts in the record, and the relevant law relating to the granting of a Franks-Mann hearing was thus properly applied. ….

Based on the sufficiency of the affidavit and the absence of a showing for a Franks-Mann hearing, the trial court reasonably believed the informant was reliable and credible, and thus there was no basis to order disclosure of the informant’s identity under § 905.10(3)(c). (¶¶22-23).

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