Spinelli v. United States 393 U.S. 410, 89 S. Ct. 584, 21 L. Ed.2d 637 (1969)
Spinelli entered Missouri from
Illinois with the intention of gambling. The police were following him.
The police applied for a
warrant to search Spinelli. The warrant contained statements that:
Spinelli went several homes
in St Louis.
One of the homes he went to
had two separate telephone numbers (a rarity back in the 1960s)
Spinelli was known around
town as a bookie.
A confidential informant
told the police that Spinelli was in St. Louis to take bets.
The police received the
warrant, executed it, and found some incriminating evidence. Spinelli was
arrested and charged with gambling-related offenses under Missouri State
The Trial Court convicted
Spinelli of gambling. Spinelli appealed.
Spinelli argued that the
search warrant was unconstitutional because the police did not have
sufficient probable cause to get a
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court looked
at the warrant with a "totality of circumstances" approach.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and threw out the conviction.
The US Supreme Court looked
to Aguilar v. Texas (378 U.S. 108
(1964)), and found that an affidavit to support probable cause
to get a warrant can be based on hearsay information from an informant,
but that affidavit must also provide:
Information on the
'underlying circumstances' so that the magistrate can judge the validity
of the informant's information and,
Information to support the
claim that the informant's information was credible and reliable.
The Court looked at the
police affidavit and found:
The first two statements
were innocent activities that do not show anything to sustain a warrant.
The third statement was
nothing but a bald and unilluminating assertion.
The fourth statement was a
necessary element, but not sufficient.
The Court found that the
informer's tip did not meet two-pronged test required by Aguilar.
The affidavit supplied no
information on why the magistrate should believe that the informer was
reliable. (He could be actively lying).
Aka the veracity prong.
The affidavit supplied no
information of the underlying circumstances from which the informer
concluded that Spinelli was running a bookmaking operation. (He could
have gotten the information from a bad source).
Aka the basis for
This two-prong approach is
known as the Aguilar-Spinelli Doctrine.
The basic rule was that if you
are going to use an informer, you must provide enough information to show
that the informer is reliable and that they actually have access to the
information they claim they have access to.
Alternately, the police can
find independent evidence to corroborate the informer's statements.
The reason this is important
is that if the affidavit is missing these things, then the magistrate
isn't the one who is determining probable cause. He is just rubber
stamping what the policeman believes is probable cause.
The magistrate must be able
to make an independent determination based solely on the facts.
This case was later overturned
by Illinois v. Gates (462 U.S. 231