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Draper v. United States


On September 7, a Federal narcotics agent in Denver received information from a reliable source that the defendant would be traveling to Denver from Chicago with three ounces of heroin. The source provided a detailed physical description of the defendant, as well as a description of the clothing he would be wearing. The source stated the defendant would be returning to Denver on a train on either September 8th or 9th, would be carrying “a tan zipper bag,” and that he habitually “walked real fast.” On September 9, the agent observed the defendant get off an incoming Chicago train, who began walking “fast” toward the exit. The defendant had the exact physical attributes, and was wearing the clothing predicted by the source. He was carrying a tan zipper bag in his right hand. The agent then approached and arrested the defendant. The officers found heroin and a syringe during the search incident to the arrest.


  1. Whether hearsay evidence that is not legally admissible in a criminal trial can be used in developing probable cause for an arrest?
  2. Whether the officer established probable cause to arrest the defendant?


1. Yes. Probable cause for an arrest can be established through hearsay evidence.
2. Yes. The information given to the agent was sufficient to establish probable cause.


It is well settled that an arrest may be made upon hearsay evidence. There is a significant difference between what is required to prove guilt in a criminal case and what is required to substantiate the existence of probable cause. While hearsay evidence may not be admissible in a criminal trial, it may be used to establish probable cause.

Here, the agent received information from a reliable source. In pursuing that information, the agent “personally verified every facet of the information given him by the reliable source, except whether the defendant had three ounces of heroin with him.” The Court also stated that “with every other bit of the reliable source’s information being personally verified, the agent had probable cause to believe that the remaining bit of unverified information – that the defendant had the heroin with him – was likewise true.”


358 U.S. 307, 79 S. Ct. 329 (1959)

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