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People v. Collings





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Ford County; the Hon. WILLIAM M. ROBERTS, Judge, presiding.


The State appeals an order of the circuit court of Ford County entered September 11, 1980, quashing a search warrant and suppressing evidence seized in its execution. The order was entered on the motion of defendant, Ronald G. Collings, Jr., who had been charged in that court on May 16, 1980, with two counts of unlawful possession of controlled substances (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 56 1/2, par. 1402) and one count of unlawful possession of a substance containing more than 30 grams but less than 500 grams of cannabis. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 56 1/2, par. 704(d).

The warrant had been issued upon the verified complaint of Ronald Rasmus which stated in pertinent part:

"I am a police officer for the City of Paxton, Ford County, Illinois. A confidential source has told me about seeing cocaine in Apartment 11 at 800 South High, Paxton, Illinois. The source has seen cocaine before and recognized this substance as being cocaine. The source saw the cocaine late this afternoon between 4 and 6 p.m. This source has given me information on four separate occasions within the past year. Each time the information proved to be true. To the best of my knowledge this source has never been convicted of a crime and is not currently charged with a crime." (Emphasis added.)

The trial court concluded that under the precedent of People v. Palanza (1978), 55 Ill. App.3d 1028, 371 N.E.2d 687, the italicized portion of the complaint was insufficient to satisfy one of the requirements of Aguilar v. Texas (1964), 378 U.S. 108, 12 L.Ed.2d 723, 84 S.Ct. 1509, that such a complaint when based on information given to the affiant by an unidentified informer must show the basis of the informant's knowledge of the facts the informant is stated to have related. It reluctantly granted the motion to quash and suppress.

We agree that the case on appeal is analogous to Palanza, where the affiant set forth the basis of the informer's knowledge in these words:

"`* * * that informant was present in the above described premises within the past 72 hours and while there did personally observe a quantity of a white crystalline substance which was represented to the informant by a white male occupant of the premises to be cocaine. Informant has observed cocaine on numerous occasions in the past and is thoroughly familiar with its appearance. The informant states that the white crystalline powder he observed in the above described premises appear to him to be cocaine.'" (55 Ill. App.3d 1028, 1029, 371 N.E.2d 687, 688.)

There the informer was stated to have observed cocaine on numerous occasions and to be thoroughly familiar with it. Here the complaint only stated that the informer had seen cocaine before. In Palanza, the complaint alleged that the informer claimed to have been told by an occupant of the premises that the suspected substance was cocaine, while here no such contention was made. The Palanza court deemed the allegation to be worthless hearsay upon hearsay, citing United States v. Roth (7th Cir. 1967), 391 F.2d 507. Nevertheless, the Palanza affidavit was at least somewhat stronger than that here.

In Palanza, evidence was presented and held to be properly before the court that a person cannot tell from its appearance whether a white powdery substance is cocaine. Here, no such evidence was before the court, but the State does not dispute the accuracy of the assertion. The trial judge's reluctance to grant the order was based upon his belief there are many surrounding circumstances in which an informant can see a white powdery substance and determine with a high degree of likelihood that the substance is cocaine yet be unable to articulate the totality of those circumstances.

We cannot agree with the State that Palanza and the trial court's ruling here are contrary to prior authority in this State as shown by the following cases. In People v. Rogers (1978), 59 Ill. App.3d 396, 375 N.E.2d 1009, while holding a seizure to have been improper for other reasons, we deemed an affidavit for the search warrant to have been sufficient when an informant was stated to have described the substance he identified as marijuana as a brownish vegetable material in plastic bags. The material was distinctive in appearance and in a type of container used in selling marijuana. In People v. Beck (1975), 28 Ill. App.3d 782, 329 N.E.2d 325, the informant was stated to have gone to a second floor apartment and purchased a packet containing fine white powder known by the informant to be heroin. There the powdered substance was in the type of container used in the drug trade, and the fact that the substance was sold from a private residence increased the likelihood that the substance was contraband.

The State correctly asserts that the Palanza type affidavit has been held sufficient in other States. Professor Wayne LaFave, although apparently approving the rationale of Palanza, has pointed out that its holding would likely be rejected by most courts>. He has stated:

"* * * caution is called for when the offense can be viewed by an observer but the critical facts are of such a nature that they are not subject to ready determination by the average person, but unfortunately the courts> seldom exercise this caution. Thus, an informant's allegation that he saw the defendant in possession of counterfeit money is deemed sufficient without any explanation as to how it was determined that the money was counterfeit in character, and an assertion by an informant that he saw illegal drugs or the like at a certain place is regularly accepted without any showing as to how the informant was able to identify the substance. Similarly, courts> — including the United States Supreme Court [citing McCray v. Illinois (1967), 386 U.S. 300, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 18 L.Ed.2d 62] — seem to think it is enough that an informant says he `saw' a sale of narcotics, even without any explanation as to how it was known that a sale was occurring or that the object being sold was in fact narcotics. Because even trained police sometimes jump to the unwarranted conclusion that they have witnessed such an occurrence, it is strange that such allegations by informants, which are conclusory as to the most critical facts, should so readily be accepted. It is said that an informant's claim that he saw narcotics shows the informant is relying on `something more substantial than a casual rumor circulating in the underworld or an accusation based merely on an individual's general reputation' [citing United States v. Acosta (5th Dist. 1974), 501 F.2d 1330] but this really is not true for if the informant cannot identify the substance he has seen then his conclusion that it is narcotics may in fact be based on rumor or reputation." 1 LaFave, Search and Seizure § 3.3, at 539-40 (1978).

In McCray, the United States Supreme Court upheld an Illinois narcotics offense conviction which hinged upon the propriety of the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress heroin seized by police officers from an accused after searching him without a warrant. The issue on review was the constitutional propriety of the search and seizure. The State claimed the officers to have had probable cause because they had received information from an unnamed informant who told them that the accused "was selling narcotics and had narcotics on his person and that he could be found in the vicinity of 47th and Calumet" at that time. (386 U.S. 300, 302, 18 L.Ed.2d 62, 66, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 1058.) One of the officers testified to having been familiar with the informant for about one year and that during that time the informant had given the police reliable information about narcotic activities on about 15 times and the information had resulted in numerous arrests and convictions. Most of the majority opinion discussed the propriety of the State withholding the name of the informer, but the opinion also stated, "The testimony of each of the officers informed the court of the `underlying circumstances from which the informant concluded that the narcotics were where he claimed they were'" (386 U.S. 300, 304, 18 L.Ed.2d 62, 67, 87 S.Ct. 1056, 1059), citing Aguilar and referring to United States v. Ventresca (1965), 380 U.S. 102, 13 L.Ed.2d 684, 85 S.Ct. 741.

• 1 As indicated in McCray, in determining whether the requirements of Aguilar have been met Ventresca must also be considered. There the court said that in passing on the sufficiency of affidavits for search warrants we must recognize that they are often drawn by "non-lawyers in the midst and haste of a criminal investigation." (380 U.S. 102, 108, 13 L.Ed.2d 684, 689, 85 S.Ct. 741, 746.) The concerns of the trial court were similar to the warning of Ventresca. The Palanza court quoted from an article by Professor LaFave to set forth ways by which an informant may be shown ...

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