Court Opinions: Colorado Supreme Court Opinions for Oct. 25

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

People v. McKay

Denver police had a warrant to search Scott McKay’s home and car. They allegedly found more than four pounds of methamphetamine and a gun during the search, and McKay was charged with possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.

McKay moved to suppress the evidence found during the search and the trial court granted the motion, finding the issuing magistrate’s probable cause determination lacked a substantial basis. The state appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

The search warrant affidavit was signed by a police detective with experience in investigating narcotics crimes. The affidavit indicated a confidential informant told police that McKay had recently sold him methamphetamine and was distributing meth from his home and other locations. The police detective verified some of the informant’s assertions about McKay, such as his identity, address and vehicles. According to the affidavit, McKay had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance in Colorado and elsewhere.

The affidavit also indicated the detective used the informant to conduct two controlled meth purchases from McKay, one at an agreed-upon location and the other at McKay’s home, and each controlled purchase involved a sequence of events. First, the police searched the informant before the purchase to verify he didn’t have drugs or money on him and the police gave the informant money to buy meth. Law enforcement then surveilled the transaction. After the buy, the informant turned the drugs over to police, who searched the informant again to verify he didn’t have money or other drugs. Finally, a lab confirmed that the purchased substance was methamphetamine.

The trial court concluded the search warrant was invalid because it was assumed the informant drove to the purchase locations, but the affidavit didn’t indicate whether his car had been searched for drugs and money, which cast doubt on the integrity of the controlled buys and the reliability of the informant.

The state appealed directly to the Supreme Court, which reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case. The justices concluded the trial court didn’t give the affidavit the presumption of validity to which it was entitled. Rather than looking at the “four corners of the affidavit,” the trial court speculated about possible omissions and drew inferences about whether the informant drove a car to the scene, the high court said in its opinion. Even if the informant had driven and his car wasn’t searched, the magistrate’s conclusion still had substantial basis, the court said, pointing to a similar recent case and decision from the Utah Supreme Court.

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