The Credibility of Confidential Informants and Challenging the Information to Obtain a Search Warrant.

Published On: Dec 04,2018

Confidential Informants and the sufficiency of information in a warrant.
The Credibiity of Confidential Informants in Reviewing a Informaiton to Obtain a Warrant to Search a home

The credibility of a confidential informant is very important to the state’s case when endeavoring to uphold a warrant authorizing a search that is critical to the entire prosecution case.  An accused person’s conviction was overturned recently by the Court of Appeal in Regina v. Herta, 2018 ONCA 927where the entire case for the Prosecution Service hinged on the credibility of a confidential informant.   The Court permitted Mr. Herta’s appeal of his unsuccessful motion under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at trial, excluded the drug evidence, and entered acquittals on all counts.  The critical issue was the Information to Obtain the search warrant of a home. The critical issue was the Information to Obtain the search warrant of a home under the seminal authority of Reginav. Feeney, [1997] 2 S.C.R. 13;

The standard exacted, to review the warrant and ITO,  is one of credibly-based probability, and requires proof of reasonable probability or reasonable belief.  This standard requires more than an experienced-based “hunch” or reasonable suspicion, but it does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or even the establishment of a prima facie case.  In short, if the inferences of criminal conduct and the recovery of evidence are reasonable on the facts disclosed in the ITO, then the search warrant could have been issued.

In this case, the search of his home arose from the fact that an individual wanted by police (DC) was seen arriving there.  The Information to Obtain (the “ITO”) the search warrant contained references from a confidential informant that this individual “DC” was armed.  Consequently, the police obtained a search warrant for the house, which did not reveal a gun, but led police to find several illicit CDSA substances that formed the basis of the charges before the Provincial Court.

The Court of Appeal made it very clear that the indexed search warrant, in this case, rose or fell on the strength of the confidential informant’s tip; and consequently the Crown’s case.   However, the trial judge was not tasked with a step six analysis from Regina v. Garofoli, 1990 CanLII 52 (S.C.C.).   When reviewing a judicial authorization, the relevant question is not whether the reviewing Court would have granted the order. The question on review is whether or not the order could have issued. The test in this regard was set out by Sopinka J. in Garofoli, supra, as follows:

The reviewing judge does not substitute his or her view for that of the authorizing judge. If, based on the record which was before the authorizing judge as amplified on the review, the reviewing judge concludes that the authorizing judge could have granted the authorization, then he or she should not interfere. In this process, the existence of fraud, non-disclosure, misleading evidence and new evidence are all relevant, but, rather than being a prerequisite to review, their sole impact is to determine whether there continues to be any basis for the decision of the authorizing judge.

In Reginav. Morelli, 2010 SCC 8 (CanLII), the Supreme Court of the Canada articulated the standard of review in these terms:

In reviewing the sufficiency of a warrant application, however, “the test is whether there was reliable evidence that might reasonably be believed on the basis of which the authorization could have issued” (R. v. Araujo, 2000 SCC 65, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 992 (S.C.C.), at para. 54 (emphasis in original)). The question is not whether the reviewing court would itself have issued the warrant, but whether there was sufficient credible and reliable evidence to permit a justice of the peace to find reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence had been committed and that evidence of that offence would be found at the specified time and place.

This is notwithstanding the fact there were heavy redactions in the ITO.  However, since the redacted ITO did not contain objective facts supporting the informant’s credibility, no confidence could be safely placed in his/her information. What is more, insufficient corroborative evidence was present to justify the belief that DC was in the residence with a gun. The confirmatory information available related to things that many people would know about this person: DC.

Finally, the confidential informant’s tip was not sufficiently compelling. This is because it did not connect DC’s possession of a gun to the residence in question; and there was nothing in in the ITO that connected DC to the residence. The ITO was also potentially misleading by suggesting that DC lived at the house.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Court could not support the warrant and that the accused’s s.8 Charterrights were breached.

As such, the Court engaged in a s. 24(2) Charter analysis as required by Regina v. Grant2009 SCC 32 (SCC).  It ruled that the impact of the breach on the Charter-protected interests of the accused weighed heavily in favour of exclusion, given the highly invasive nature of the search. Despite the importance of society’s interest in the adjudication of this case on the merits, the exclusion of evidence was warranted.  Acquittals were entered on this basis.

If you have been charged with a drug related offence involving the use of Search Warrant by the police, call Mr. J.S. Patel, Barrister for a consultation:  403-585-1960.