CA6: Informant’s reliability is the question, and that leads to finding of reliability of his or her hearsay

The CI’s first hand information isn’t constitutionally required for informant hearsay to be deemed credible. The question is the reliability of the informant, not so much the information which usually can’t all be pinned down anyway. United States v. Crawford, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 34218 (6th Cir. Nov. 18, 2019):

Crawford has not convinced us otherwise. Relying on United States v. Pelham, 801 F.2d 875 (6th Cir. 1986), Crawford argues that the affidavit was silent as to whether Heard in fact observed any criminal activity himself. That silence, says Crawford, makes it uncertain whether Heard had first-hand information justifying the warrant, or merely circumstantial information of criminal conduct. And that lack of clarity, Crawford says, dooms the case for probable cause justifying the warrant. But Pelham cannot bear such weight. Pelham makes the perhaps unassailable observation that an informant who sees criminal activity can provide a substantial basis for finding probable cause. Id. at 878. Yet neither that case, nor any other case, to our knowledge, establishes a bright-line rule that first-hand knowledge of criminality is necessary to establish probable cause. To the contrary, in the over three decades that followed Pelham, we have not required informants personally to observe contraband or criminal activity before a court may find probable cause based on an informant’s statement. See, e.g., United States v. Smith, 510 F.3d 641, 653 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing United States v. King, 227 F.3d 732, 742 (6th Cir. 2000) (holding that the totality of the circumstances supported probable-cause determination despite confidential informant’s lack of personal observation of criminal activity)). All that is required is that the totality of the circumstances satisfy the probable-cause standard. Id.

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