Whether, in a "buy and bust" drug operation, testimony from an arresting officer of a communication from another officer whose traditional role it is to observe the buy is enough to establish probable cause.
Yes. It was reasonable for the court to infer from the arresting officer's testimony that the other officer obtained his information from personal observation.
Police caught the defendant in a "buy and bust" drug operation, an operation in which the undercover officer would make the buy and signal to another "ghost" officer, who would in turn radio the arresting officer with a description of the suspect. The arresting officer testified that he received such a signal, proceeded to the locale and arrested the defendant, who matched the ghost's description.
At a hearing to determine admissibility of evidence recovered from defendant, the arresting officer was the sole witness. Defendant made a motion to suppress, argued that the state had failed to establish probable cause by not giving a factual basis for the ghost officer's basis of knowledge. The hearing court denied this motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed.
The fellow officer rule allows an officer to arrest even without personal knowledge of facts sufficient to establish probable cause, so long as the information came from another officer with probable cause. The state can meet their burden of proving probable cause with hearsay, so long as they establish the reliability of the informant and the basis of his or her knowledge. The defendant argued that the state had not met its burden of establishing the ghost's basis for knowledge. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, ruling that it was reasonable for the court to infer from the arresting officer's testimony about the operation that the ghost received his information from personal observation, and from a signal from the undercover officer.