This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




In the Matter of the Welfare of: W.L.T., Child.

Filed April 27, 1999


Anderson, Judge

Hennepin County District Court

File No. J0-98-052285

William E. McGee, Chief Hennepin County Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 - 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and

Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda M. Freyer, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.[*]



Appellant challenges the district court's finding of probable cause to arrest him. We affirm.


Appellant W.L.T., a juvenile, was arrested and charged with fifth-degree controlled substance possession in violation of Minn. Stat. § 152.025, subd. 2(1) and 3(a) (1996). Appellant moved to suppress the evidence, and a Rasmussen hearing was held.

Officer Richard Gearhart testified that he had been working with a confidential informant (CI) who gave him information about a person who the CI knew was selling narcotics. The officer admitted that the CI was not yet a reliable CI because he had done very little work with him. At the officer's direction, the CI made a phone call ordering narcotics to be delivered to a certain location to allow officers to make an arrest. The officer listened while the CI made the phone call, and the officer recorded that conversation. Based on the call, the officer learned that an eight-ball (approximately 3.5 grams) of crack cocaine was going to be delivered to the 2900 block of Girard Avenue North. The CI stated that he knew the seller as Anthony; he provided a physical description, as well as a description of the motor vehicle in which the crack was to be delivered.

Immediately after the call, Officer Gearhart, the CI, and other officers went to the area of delivery. Officer Gearhart observed an older model, brown, two-door Cutlass with a cracked windshield, matching the description given, entering the area going north on Girard approaching 29th Street, confirming the information that the CI had provided. The vehicle arrived at approximately the right time, and the CI made a positive identification. The officer stopped the car, asked for the driver's identification, and discovered that Anthony was his middle name.

At that point, the officer believed he had probable cause to arrest for narcotics possession and arrested both the driver and appellant, a passenger. The officer testified that, from his past experience, when narcotics are delivered in a vehicle, everyone in the vehicle knows what is happening. The officer testified that often a juvenile will carry narcotics for an adult because of an assumption that juveniles receive less severe punishment than adults receive for narcotics offenses.

The district court found that

[b]ased on the testimony of Officer Gearhart, and the arguments put forward by [the state], the court agrees that there was probable cause under the circumstances to stop the vehicle, to search the vehicle, and to place under arrest any individuals found in that vehicle, and to search them incident to arrest, and so the motions of the [appellant] would be denied.

After the district court denied the motion to suppress the evidence, appellant stipulated to the facts, agreed to the submission of the police reports, the petition, and lab reports. The district court found appellant guilty of possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree and referred appellant back to the juvenile court for determination of appropriate disposition. Appellant challenges the order denying his motion to suppress evidence and finding that he committed the charged offense, but does not challenge the order for disposition or probation orders.


In reviewing a pretrial suppression order where the facts are not in dispute and the decision is a question of law, this court independently reviews the facts to determine whether the evidence need be suppressed. State v. Othoudt, 482 N.W.2d 218, 221 (Minn. 1992). Probable cause to arrest exists when police reasonably could have believed that the person to be arrested had committed a crime. State v. Merrill, 274 N.W.2d 99, 108 (Minn. 1978). The Minnesota Supreme Court, while reviewing the standard for probable cause to arrest, recently quoted the U.S. Supreme Court's discussion of probable cause to search:

Articulating precisely what * * * "probable cause" mean[s] is not possible. [It is a] commonsense, nontechnical conception that deal[s] with "`the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.'" As such, the standard [is] "not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules." We have described probable cause to search as existing where the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found. We have cautioned that th[is] legal principle [is] not [a] "finely-tuned standard," comparable to the standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt or of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. [It is] instead [a] fluid concept that take[s] [its] substantive content[s] from the particular contexts in which the standard [is] being assessed.

State v. Walker, 584 N.W.2d 763, 766 (Minn. 1998) (quoting Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695-96, 116 S. Ct. 1657 (1996)) (citations omitted).

At the time the police arrested appellant based on probable cause for possession of narcotics, they had the following information: (1) a CI told an officer that he had an acquaintance selling narcotics; (2) in the officer's presence, the CI placed a phone call requesting an eight-ball, or approximately 3.5 grams of crack cocaine, to be delivered to the 2900 block of Girard Avenue North; (3) the CI provided a physical description of the driver and the motor vehicle that it was going to be delivered in and stated that he knew the person by the name of Anthony; (4) immediately afterwards, the officer went with other officers and the CI to the delivery area where they observed an older model, brown, two-door Cutlass with a cracked windshield, matching the given description, going north on Girard approaching 29th Street; (5) the CI confirmed that the suspect was driving the vehicle; (6) appellant was the only passenger in the vehicle; (7) after making a traffic stop, the officer requested the driver's identification and discovered his middle name was Anthony; and finally, (8) from prior experience the officer had personal knowledge that (a) when narcotics are being delivered in a vehicle, everyone in the vehicle has personal knowledge of what is happening and (b) adults often will have a juvenile carry the narcotics because they assume juveniles will be treated more lightly for narcotics violations than adults. Based on all of these facts and circumstances, the officer then determined he had probable cause to arrest both the driver and appellant for a narcotics violation.[1]

Appellant argues that the officer did not have probable cause to arrest appellant for narcotics because he was not expecting anyone else to be with the driver. Appellant also attacks the reliability of the CI, characterizing the CI as an "anonymous" informant. Finally, by suggesting that the only information the officers had regarding appellant was that he was merely a passenger riding along to a suspected drug deal, appellant argues that the case law does not support a finding of probable cause to arrest him.

To discredit the reliability of the CI, appellant suggests that two cases, State v. McCloskey, 453 N.W.2d 700, 701 (Minn. 1990), and In re Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687, 695 (Minn. 1997), characterize known informants as either "anonymous" or "technically anonymous" and that for similar reasons, this court should also characterize the CI here as "anonymous." These cases, however, do not support appellant's argument. In McCloskey, even with the supreme court's characterization of the CI as "anonymous," the court explained that the informant had face-to-face contact with the sheriff and concluded that the information provided the court with enough probable cause to issue a search warrant. 453 N.W.2d at 703. In G.M., the informant was indeed anonymous because the officers neither spoke with the informant nor did they know his name. 560 N.W.2d at 695-96.

Contrary to appellant's suggestions, the CI in this case was not anonymous. He worked directly with officers, made a phone call to the drug supplier while in the presence of the officers, and rode along to the drug deal to identify the supplier. Although the officer admitted that the informant was not yet a reliable confidential informant, the officer's corroboration of the facts provided by the CI made his information reliable. Information provided by an informant who is not credible "may be sufficiently reliable where it is supported by `corroborating factors (that) provide a substantial basis for crediting the informant's tip * * * .'" State v. Filipi, 297 N.W.2d 275, 277 (Minn. 1980) (quoting State v. Causey, 257 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Minn. 1977)). Here, the officer not only testified that the CI's information was proven correct when the supplier was stopped, in addition, the officer was also present when the CI made the call to purchase the crack cocaine.

Based on the officer's corroboration of the CI's information, there was sufficient reliable information to give the officer probable cause to arrest the driver of the vehicle. We must turn, then, to whether there was also probable cause to arrest appellant based on his status as a passenger riding along on the way to a suspected drug deal.

Appellant cites several cases where Minnesota courts have held that, despite having probable cause to arrest a driver, there was no probable cause to arrest and search the passenger. The case most closely related, State v. Brazil, 269 N.W.2d 15 (Minn. 1978), however, is distinguishable. In Brazil, the officer did not arrest the passenger in the car of a suspected drug dealer until after the dealer had already gone inside to conduct the drug sale. The supreme court adopted the following reasoning: "All of the criminal action took place inside the Café and the defendant never left the Trans Am so in no way could he be directly connected to the sale." Brazil, 269 N.W.2d at 19.

Unlike Brazil, because the officer here arrested appellant with the dealer while on the way to the drug deal, there was sufficient knowledge for a reasonable person to believe appellant was participating in the deal and, therefore, had drugs in his possession as well. Had the officers waited, as they did in Brazil, and appellant remained in the car while the drug transaction occurred away from the vehicle, at that point the officers might not have had continued probable cause to believe that appellant was participating in the deal. Those, however, are not our facts. In addition, here it was unnecessary to wait to arrest the supplier and appellant until after the drug transaction because the officer was present during the call ordering the drugs and therefore had more reliable information than in Brazil that a drug deal would actually occur.

The officer's personal knowledge, based on experience, (a) that generally everyone in a vehicle on the way to a drug transaction knows about the transaction and (b) that adults often use minors to carry drugs for them provides additional support for a finding of probable cause to arrest appellant. "[A] police officer views the facts through the lens of his police experience and expertise" and "may draw inferences based on [that] experience in deciding whether probable cause exits." Ornelas, 116 S. Ct. at 1663 (citing U.S. v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 897, 95 S. Ct. 2585, 2589 (1975)). The known facts and circumstances here were sufficient for the officer reasonably to believe that appellant had a participating role in the sale of drugs, thereby providing probable cause to arrest him.


[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.

[1] Appellant argues, without making an appropriate motion to this court, that we should strike from respondent's brief quotations from the police report because it was not a part of the record until after the Rasmussen hearing. This argument is irrelevant because Officer Gearhart testified to the relevant facts at the Rasmussen hearing.