393 U.S. 410 (1969), 8, Spinelli v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 8
Citation:393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637
Party Name:Spinelli v. United States
Case Date:January 27, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 410

393 U.S. 410 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637



United States

No. 8

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 27, 1969

Argued October 16-17, 1968




Petitioner was convicted of illegal interstate gambling activities despite his claim that the Commissioner's warrant authorizing the FBI search that uncovered evidence used at his trial violated the Fourth Amendment. He argued that the FBI agent's supporting affidavit did not afford probable cause for issuance of the warrant. The affidavit alleged that the FBI had followed petitioner on five days, on four of which he had been seen crossing one of two bridges leading from Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri, and had been seen parking his car at a St. Louis apartment house parking lot; he was seen one day to enter a particular apartment; the apartment contained two telephones with specified numbers; petitioner was known to affiant as a gambler and associate of gamblers; and the FBI had "been informed by a confidential reliable informant" that petitioner was "operating a handbook and accepting wagers and disseminating wagering information by means of the telephones" which had been assigned the specified numbers. Viewing the information in the affidavit in its totality, the Court of Appeals deemed the principles of Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, satisfied, and upheld the conviction.

Held: The informant's tip, an essential part of the affidavit in this case, was not sufficient (even as corroborated by other allegations) to provide the basis for a finding of probable cause that a crime was being committed.

Pp. 412-420.

(a) The tip was inadequate under the standards of Aguilar, supra, since it did not set forth any reason to support the conclusion that the informant was "reliable," and did not sufficiently state the underlying circumstances from which the informant had concluded that petitioner was running a bookmaking operation or sufficiently detail his activities to enable the Commissioner to know that he was relying on more than casual rumor or general reputation. Cf. Draper v. United States, 358 U.S. 307. Pp. 415-417.

(b) Nor was the tip's reliability sufficiently enhanced by the FBI's corroboration of certain limited aspects of the informant's report through the use of independent sources. Pp. 417-418.

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(c) The FBI's surveillance of petitioner and its investigation of the telephone company records do not independently suggest criminal conduct when taken by themselves. P. 418.

382 F.2d 871, reversed and remanded.

HARLAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

William Spinelli was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 19521 of traveling to St. Louis, Missouri, from a nearby Illinois suburb with the intention of conducting gambling activities proscribed by Missouri law. See Mo.Rev.Stat. § 563.360 (1959). At every appropriate stage in the proceedings in the lower courts, the petitioner challenged the constitutionality of the warrant which authorized the FBI search that uncovered the evidence necessary for his conviction. At each stage, Spinelli's challenge was treated in a different way. At a pretrial suppression hearing, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri held that Spinelli

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lacked standing to raise a Fourth Amendment objection. A unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected the District Court's ground, a majority holding [89 S.Ct. 587] further that the warrant was issued without probable cause. After an en banc rehearing, the Court of Appeals sustained the warrant and affirmed the conviction by a vote of six to two. 382 F.2d 871. Both the majority and dissenting en banc opinions reflect a most conscientious effort to apply the principles we announced in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964), to a factual situation whose basic characteristics have not been at all uncommon in recent search warrant cases. Believing it desirable that the principles of Aguilar should be further explicated, we granted certiorari, 390 U.S. 942, our writ being later limited to the question of the constitutional validity of the search and seizure.2 391 U.S. 933. For reasons that follow, we reverse.

In Aguilar, a search warrant had issued upon an affidavit of police officers who swore only that they had "received reliable information from a credible person and do believe" that narcotics were being illegally stored on the described premises. While recognizing that the constitutional requirement of probable cause can be satisfied by hearsay information, this Court held the

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affidavit inadequate for two reasons. First, the application failed to set forth any of the "underlying circumstances" necessary to enable the magistrate independently to judge of the validity of the informant's conclusion that the narcotics were where he said they were. Second, the affiant officers did not attempt to support their claim that their informant was "`credible' or his information `reliable.'" The Government is, however, quite right in saying that the FBI affidavit in the present case is more ample than that in Aguilar. Not only does it contain a report from an anonymous informant, but it also contains a report of an independent FBI investigation which is said to corroborate the informant's tip. We are, then, required to delineate the manner in which Aguilar's two-pronged test should be applied in these circumstances.

In essence, the affidavit, reproduced in full in the Appendix to this opinion, contained the following allegations:3

1. The FBI had kept track of Spinelli's movements on five days during the month of August, 1965. On four of these occasions, Spinelli was seen crossing one of two bridges leading from Illinois into St. Louis, Missouri, between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. On four of the five days, Spinelli was also seen parking his car in a lot used by residents of an [89 S.Ct. 588] apartment house at 1108 Indian Circle Drive in St. Louis, between 3:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.4

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On one day, Spinelli was followed further and seen to enter a particular apartment in the building.

2. An FBI check with the telephone company revealed that this apartment contained two telephones listed under the name of Grace P. Hagen, and carrying the numbers WYdown 4-0029 and WYdown 4-0136.

3. The application stated that

William Spinelli is known to this affiant and to federal law enforcement agents and local law enforcement agents as a bookmaker, an associate of bookmakers, a gambler, and an associate of gamblers.

4. Finally, it was stated that the FBI

has been informed by a confidential reliable informant that William Spinelli is operating a handbook and accepting wagers and disseminating wagering information by means of the telephones which have been assigned the numbers WYdown 4-0029 and WYdown 4-0136.

There can be no question that the last item mentioned, detailing the informant's tip, has a fundamental place in this warrant application. Without it, probable cause could not be established. The first two items reflect only innocent-seeming activity and data. Spinelli's travels to and from the apartment building and his entry into a particular apartment on one occasion could hardly be taken as bespeaking gambling activity; and there is surely nothing unusual about an apartment containing two separate telephones. Many a householder indulges himself in this petty luxury. Finally, the allegation that Spinelli was "known" to the affiant and to other federal and local law enforcement officers as a gambler and an associate of gamblers is but a bald and unilluminating assertion of suspicion that is entitled to no weight in appraising the magistrate's decision. Nathanson v. United States, 290 U.S. 41, 46 (1933).

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So much, indeed, the Government does not deny. Rather, following the reasoning of the Court of Appeals, the Government claims that the informant's tip gives a suspicious color to the FBI's reports detailing Spinelli's innocent-seeming conduct, and that, conversely, the FBI's surveillance corroborates the informant's tip, thereby entitling it to more weight. It is true, of course, that the magistrate is obligated to render a judgment based upon a common sense reading of the entire affidavit. United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 108 (1965). We believe, however, that the "totality of circumstances" approach taken by the Court of Appeals paints with too broad a brush. Where, as here, the informer's tip is a necessary element in a finding of probable cause, its proper weight must be determined by a more precise analysis.

The informer's report must first be measured against Aguilar's standards, so that its probative value can be assessed. If the tip is found inadequate under Aguilar, the other allegations which corroborate the information contained in the hearsay report should then be considered. At this stage as well, however, the standards enunciated in Aguilar must inform the magistrate's decision. He must ask: can it fairly be said that the tip, even when certain parts of it have been corroborated by independent sources, is as trustworthy as a tip which would pass Aguilar's tests without independent corroboration? Aguilar is relevant at this stage of the inquiry as well because the tests it establishes were designed to implement the [89 S.Ct. 589] longstanding principle that probable cause must be determined by a "neutral and detached magistrate," and not by "the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime." Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14 (1948). A magistrate cannot be said to have properly discharged his constitutional duty if he relies on an informer's tip which -- even

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when partially corroborated -- is not as reliable as one which passes Aguilar's requirements when standing...

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