Before a person may be arrested for a crime, there must be probable cause to believe that the person has committed a crime for which an arrest can occur. The information must be reasonably trustworthy. The information can be presented to a judge or magistrate who can then issue an arrest warrant. But police officers acting on probable cause can also make an arrest without a warrant. In many criminal cases, whether there was cause for the initial arrest becomes an important issue to examine because evidence collected as a result of the arrest (such as from a search of or custodial interrogation of the accused) may not be admissible if the initial arrest was unlawful. One recent case examined by the Tennessee Supreme Court, in which they had to address the issue of probable cause for arrest, was State v. Echols, E2009-01697-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 10-10-2012), which arose from Knox County.
In the Echols case, police investigating a robbery-homicide in a parking lot at Townview Towers had received information from an unnamed source that on the night of the shooting, a black male named “Travis” with a missing front tooth had sought to use a resident’s telephone. On questioning, that resident described an individual who was a black male named “Travis” with a missing front tooth and said he had used her phone that night and she had overheard him saying he had shot a man who had a lot of money in his possession. Investigators asked for her to contact them if she saw this person again. A few days later, police received information from the unnamed source that the suspect had returned. Police went to the residence, searched, and found “Travis” who fit the suspect description. They arrested him and during a custodial interrogation, he admitted to the robbery-homicide.
The Defendant challenged the admissibility of his confession at trial, arguing, among other things, that his arrest was unlawful. The trial court determined the arrest to be valid and the statement to be admissible. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals found the arrest lacking in probable cause and invalid, but declined to reverse the conviction, due to finding the admission of the statement was harmless error. On review, the Tennessee Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the arrest was valid, and that the confession was properly admissible. They noted that the information supporting the arrest was the information provided by the named source who had no criminal record and who was determined to be reasonably trustworthy. In addition, her information tended to corroborate the information provided by the unnamed source. The description of the suspect who had used the phone and had been overheard admitting to the crime was sufficient to arrest the Defendant, who matched that description.
If you have a question as to what information might create probable cause for an arrest, contact Hindman & Associates.