from the Superior Court No. 1KE-13-897 CR, First Judicial
District, Ketchikan, Trevor Stephens and William B. Carey,
Chyun, Assistant Public Advocate, Appeals and Statewide
Defense Section, and Richard Allen, Public Advocate,
Anchorage, for the Appellant.
L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal
Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General,
Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Coats,
Senior Judge. [*]
Rhea Hart was convicted of one count of second-degree
misconduct involving a controlled substance and one count of
third-degree misconduct involving a controlled
substance. Prior to trial, Hart moved to suppress
evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant, alleging that
the warrant was issued based on information that did not
satisfy the Aguilar/Spinelli test for probable
cause. Hart argued, among other claims, that the court
issuing the warrant should have rejected the statements that
two drug dealers made to a police informant as too unreliable
to support the warrant. After a hearing, the superior court
denied the suppression motion.
appeal, Hart first contends that this Court should review de
novo the district court's decision to issue the search
warrant, with no deference to the issuing judge's
decision. This proposed standard of review is inconsistent
with the rule established by our supreme court in State
v. Koen, 152 P.3d 1148 (Alaska 2007), so we reject
also claims that the superior court erred when it denied his
challenge to the search warrant. For the reasons explained in
this opinion, we conclude that the evidence presented to the
magistrate who issued the warrant satisfied the
Aguilar/Spinelli test. In particular, we hold that
the magistrate could reasonably rely on statements that two
drug dealers made to a reliable police informant when the
drug dealers were not aware that the person they were
speaking to was a police informant, and that their statements
would be provided to the police.
proper standard of review
just noted, Hart argues that this Court should review the
sufficiency of the warrant application in this case with no
deference to the decision of the judge who issued the
warrant. Hart asserts that, because he does not contest the
assertions of fact supporting the warrant application, the
sole remaining issue - whether those facts support a finding
of probable cause - is a question of law that should be
reviewed de novo, giving no deference to the decision of the
correct that, ultimately, an appellate court exercises
independent review in assessing whether a warrant is
supported by probable cause. But the Alaska Supreme Court has
directed us to give "great deference" to the
magistrate's decision to issue a warrant. Here is how the
supreme court explained the standard of review in State
Questions concerning the existence of probable cause
ultimately present issues of law, which we review
independently. But when such questions involve a
magistrate's decision to issue a warrant, we begin by
recognizing that magistrates have broad latitude to draw
reasonable inferences from the evidence placed before them.
Accordingly, we give "great deference" to the
magistrate's discretion and resolve marginal cases in
keeping with the traditional preference accorded to warrants.
Our inquiry focuses on whether the magistrate had a
substantial basis to conclude that probable cause to search
existed. In applying this standard, we must read the
affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant "in
a commonsense and realistic fashion, " considering the
affidavit "in its entirety" instead of dissecting
it into isolated "bits and pieces of information."
Koen, 152 P.3d at 1151 (internal citations omitted).
this is the standard that we apply.
warrant was ...