Arrest warrant based on hearsay must be corroborated


In 1997, Dornis Lenoir left her home in Marion County, Mississippi, with the doors closed and the windows down. Upon returning, she discovered that someone had gone through her home and thrown many of her belongings on the floor. A radio amplifier and a ring were missing.

Lenoir’s neighbors named Verbra Conerly as the person responsible for the break-in. These neighbors did not tell Lenoir any facts known to them which would have supported their suspicions. Lenoir notified the proper authorities, and an arrest warrant was issued for Conerly.

Investigator Clint McMurray, acting upon the warrant, arrested Conerly. After being held in a jail cell for two days, Conerly was given his Miranda warnings and immediately questioned by McMurray. During this questioning, Conerly signed a waiver of rights form and confessed to stealing both the amplifier and ring. McMurray was the only person who witnessed Conerly’s statement.

At trial, McMurray testified that prisoners in the holding cell are not allowed telephone calls except for calling an attorney. Conerly, however, contends that he spoke with his mother by telephone prior to his confession. Conerly’s mother, Lexie Conerly, testified that she talked to Verbra while he was in jail and told him of a threat that was made to her over the telephone.

Lexie allegedly told him that an unidentified man had threatened to burn down the Conerly house with her in it unless Verbra admitted to burglarizing Lenoir’s home. Accordingly, Conerly testified that his confession was made only because he was in fear of his mother being killed and his home being burned. Aside from his confession, there was no other evidence linking Verbra Conerly to the burglary.

Conerly was convicted of burglary and sentenced to 25 years. On appeal, he argued the arrest warrant was based on hearsay. MSC remanded the case back to the trial court to have a hearing on this issue.


A. Arrest warrant

Conerly asserts that the arrest warrant was issued based on nothing but “raw hearsay.” This court has previously held in Walker v State, 192 So. 2d 270 (Miss. 1966), that an arrest warrant may be based on hearsay. There must be underlying facts and circumstances, however, which support the hearsay so as to allow a neutral and detached magistrate to find the existence of probable cause. Uncorroborated and unsubstantiated hearsay will simply not suffice.

In the present case, the arrest warrant was based exclusively on an affidavit, which reads in relevant part as follows:

On September 23, 1997, Dornis Lenoir, came home and discovered that 1 diamond ring and a car radio amplifier [were] missing from her residence at 18 Conerly Lane. The house was locked and the house was entered into from a window. Dornis Lenoir was advised by some neighbors down the road that the person who was responsible for the missing items was Ricky Conerly. (emphasis added).

Lenoir’s neighbors, however, did not witness the incident nor did they provide any factual data to support their suspicions. From the record before us, it appears that the affidavit was based on nothing more than uncorroborated rumors.

In Henry v State, 486 So. 2d 1209 (Miss. 1986), we said to obtain an arrest warrant for a felony, either with or without a warrant, a police officer must have (1) reasonable cause to believe that a felony has been committed; and (2) reasonable cause to believe that the person proposed to be arrested is the one who committed it.

In Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court established a “totality of the circumstances” standard for determining the existence of probable cause.

We find that the information contained within the record before us is insufficient to establish probable cause. If the sole reason for the issuance of the arrest warrant was Lenoir’s testimony of what her neighbors’ “thought”, then no probable cause existed to support the issuance of the warrant. Suspicion alone does not meet the constitutional standard of probable cause.

Lenoir’s neighbors told her that they “thought” Conerly was responsible for the break-in. From the record, it appears that the neighbors’ testimony was nothing more than rumor and was not supported by any other evidence. Moreover, the record does not indicate that Conerly was even seen in the area on the day of the break-in.

B. Conerly’s confession

Assuming, but not deciding, that Conerly’s arrest was illegal, the question thus becomes whether his subsequent confession should be rendered inadmissible under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine.

We said in Coleman v State, 592 So. 2d 517 (Miss. 1991), that a confession given while in custody following an illegal arrest is not per se inadmissible.

In Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975), the U.S. Supreme Court set forth five factors for determining whether a confession, obtained subsequent to an illegal arrest, is admissible:

(1) The giving of the Miranda warnings and the circumstances

Conerly was held in a jail cell for two days before he received any Miranda warnings. Immediately after receiving the Miranda warnings, Conerly confessed to the burglary. Conerly was in continuous custody and did not consult a lawyer. Although it is unclear as to whether he spoke with his mother during this time, no other outside contact took place. Additionally, Conerly argues that he was innocent and only confessed out of fear for his mother and her house.

(2) The temporal proximity of the arrest and the confession

Conerly was jailed for two days before he was given his Miranda warnings and confessed. Although it is true that the coercive environment of jail may dissipate over time, the facts of this case seem to indicate that the two-day waiting period may have very well been the reason for Conerly’s confession. We find it very bothersome that threats were relayed to Conerly during this two day period.

(3) The presence of intervening circumstances

The only intervening event which took place between the time of arrest and Conerly’s confession was the alleged contact between Conerly and his mother, wherein she relayed to Conerly an anonymous threat to burn down her house if Conerly did not confess. Certainly a threat to burn down Conerly’s home, with his mother in it, hindered Conerly’s objectivity and exercise of free will when he made his confession.

(4) The purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct; and (5) any other circumstances that seem relevant

While we reserve judgment as to whether Conerly’s arrest was legal, we can say without a doubt that the investigation conducted was totally inadequate. Conerly was held two days before he was given Miranda warnings. During this time, Conerly asserts he spoke with his mother, who relayed threats made to her and her home.

After reviewing the facts of this case through the lens of Brown, we find the confession should be excluded under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine if the arrest warrant was illegally issued. The facts here are insufficient to break the causal chain between Conerly’s arrest and confession.

We remand this case to the Marion County Circuit Court for a determination of whether probable cause existed at the time for the issuance of the arrest warrant. Upon remand, if the circuit court should find no probable cause existed, then it shall deem the arrest warrant illegal, and Conerly’s confession inadmissible under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, and vacate its judgment and Conerly’s conviction and sentence. If the circuit court finds probable cause for the issuance of the arrest warrant, it shall make this determination in an order.