Statement of Confidential Informant Improperly Admitted in Drug Trafficking Trial

An Ohio Court of Appeals found that the statement of a confidential informant that the defendant had sold him drugs should not have been admitted at a drug trafficking trial on unrelated charges.

The case is State v. Robinson, 2012-Ohio-6068.

The defendant was convicted of possession of crack cocaine, trafficking of crack cocaine, and having a weapon under disability.

The facts started in 2008.  A Detective of the Toledo Police Department received information from a confidential informant of drugs being sold at a location that Clifford Robinson was at.  The police conducted surveillance researched past crime reports at the location which led them to believe that drug trafficking was taking place.

The police facilitated a controlled purchase at the premises, utilizing a confidential informant.  The confidential told the police that that “the drugs were being sold by [the defendant].”  The police executed a search warrant and found the defendant alone in the house watching television.  Detectives located two baggies of crack cocaine, as well as counterfeit crack cocaine, a 9mm semiautomatic pistol along with two loaded magazines.

One of the issues for the court of appeals was whether out-of-court statements attributed to the confidential informant that illegal drugs had been purchased from the defendant was admissible.

The law is that out of court statements are generally inadmissible as hearsay.  However, such statements may be presented to explain the actions of a witness, including the conduct of a police officer during the course of a criminal investigation.  These statements are admissible because they establish a foundation for conduct, rather than for the truth of the matter asserted.  In deciding whether to admit such statements, a court must be aware of the potential for abuse where an out-of-court statement purportedly offered to explain the conduct of a witness contains unduly prejudicial evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

The court concluded that, in this case, the confidential informant’s statement should not have been admitted.  The court said:

The content of the informant’s statement carried a danger of unfair prejudice to [the defendant] Robinson and confusion by the jury, as it implicated [the defendant] in the trafficking . . . from the premises.  While the statement did not directly connect [the defendant] with the crime charged, which is trafficking in crack cocaine, it nevertheless contained a potentially prejudicial accusation of criminality. 

The court did not reverse the conviction on this basis, however.  The error in admitting the statement was harmless because “the state presented substantial evidence, independent of the informant’s statement, to prove the essential elements of trafficking in crack cocaine.”


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