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IN Appeals Court: Uncorroborated 'snitching' not enough for body cavity search

Posted at 3:08 PM, Aug 17, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hearsay from a jail cellmate was not enough evidence for Madison County police to conduct a body cavity search of an inmate, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Derrick Burt petitioned the court that evidence obtained during a body cavity search in March 2015 while he was incarcerated at the Madison County Jail should not be admissible because it was obtained without probable cause.

Police located a baggie of heroin in Burt’s rectum after receiving a tip from his cellmate, Daniel Massengale, that Burt had been trafficking drugs with other inmates.

Although the tip turned out to be accurate, the Court of Appeals found that “hearsay from a source whose credibility is itself unknown, standing alone, cannot support a finding of probable cause to issue a search warrant.”

At issue, according to the court, was that the detective did not provide sufficient evidence of Massengale’s trustworthiness, for example that he had provided accurate information in the past. Police also did not conduct an independent investigation to corroborate Massengale’s statements before the search was conducted.

The court also said the fact that the tip turned out to be accurate had no bearing on establishing probable cause.

“We understand the search did, in fact, recover heroin from Burt’s rectum,” the court wrote in its opinion. “However, the law requires more than uncorroborated ‘snitching’ from a cellmate. The trial court did not have sufficient legal authority to issue the search warrant.”

As a result, the Court of Appeals granted Burt’s motion to suppress the evidence and remanded the case back to the lower court.

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