A New Jersey appeals court on Wednesday turned aside an attempt to chip away at the decades-old rule that prosecutors do not have to disclose to defendants the identities of confidential informants.
The Appellate Division, in State v. Colon, A-3731-10, turned back an argument that a defendant needed the identity of the informants so he could test the validity of the probable cause for the search warrant that led to his arrest.
“The multiple means of police corroboration provided ample evidence of the reliability of the two informants’ tips,” the judges said. “The totality of the circumstances shown by the affidavit in support of the search warrant established probable cause for its issuance.”
Undercover New Brunswick police used confidential informants to purchase cocaine from Israel Colon’s girlfriend, Raneesha Griffin, who maintained an apartment in the city, in February 2009.
The informants told the police that Colon, a Plainsboro resident, stayed at Griffin’s apartment during the day and supplied her with cocaine to sell. They also told police that Colon — also known as Eric Figueroa and Brian Carney — kept drugs at his home.
Based on that information, police obtained a search warrant for Colon’s home and searched it on March 16, 2009. Colon led the officers to a closet in his bedroom where they uncovered 112 grams of cocaine, packaging materials, scales, $2,502 in cash and a bullet-proof vest.
Colon twice attempted, without success before Superior Court Judges Barbara Stolte and Diane Pincus, to have the evidence suppressed, arguing that he should be given the identities of the confidential informants in order to bolster his challenge to the probable cause behind the search warrant.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree possession with intent to distribute, conditioned on his retaining the right to appeal the denial of his application to be informed of the identities of the informants. Pincus sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
On appeal, Colon argued there was insufficient corroboration of the informants’ information and that the warrant was based on hearsay, and that they needed to be made available to testify in order to challenge the constitutionality of the search.
Appellate Division Judges Victor Ashrafi and Margaret Hayden said the information was corroborated through the controlled buys made by the confidential informants, the surveillance that was conducted during the buys and the fact that both informants gave the police the same information about the interaction between Colon and Griffin.
The judges noted that the prosecution’s right to maintain the confidentiality of its informants has been codified since 1960 by N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-28, and by New Jersey Rule of Evidence 516.
“The State may decline to disclose the identity of a police informant in order to protect the free flow of information regarding criminal activity as well as the informant’s safety,” they said.
Thomas Rosenthal, a spokesman for Public Defender Joseph Krakora, said his office would have no comment. Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Joie Piderit did not return a telephone call seeking comment.