Massachusetts v. Upton, 83-1338

Citation80 L.Ed.2d 721,466 U.S. 727,104 S.Ct. 2085
Decision Date14 May 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-1338,83-1338
CourtUnited States Supreme Court


Last Term, in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983), we held that the Fourth Amendment's requirement of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant is to be applied, not according to a fixed and rigid formula, but rather in the light of the "totality of the circumstances" made known to the magistrate. We also emphasized that the task of a reviewing court is not to conduct a de novo determination of probable cause, but only to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the magistrate's decision to issue the warrant. In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, interpreting the probable-cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, continued to rely on the approach set forth in cases such as Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964), and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969). 390 Mass. 562, 458 N.E.2d 717 (1983). Since this approach was rejected in Gates, we grant the petition for certiorari in this case and reverse the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court.

At noon on September 11, 1980, Lieutenant Beland of the Yarmouth Police Department assisted in the execution of a search warrant for a motel room reserved by one Richard Kelleher at the Snug Harbor Motel in West Yarmouth. The search produced several items of identification, including credit cards, belonging to two persons whose homes had recently been burglarized. Other items taken in the burglaries, such as jewelry, silver, and gold, were not found at the motel.

At 3:20 p.m. on the same day, Lieutenant Beland received a call from an unidentified female who told him that there was "a motor home full of stolen stuff" parked behind #5 Jefferson Ave., the home of respondent George Upton and his mother. She stated that the stolen items included jewelry, silver, and gold. As set out in Lieutenant Beland's affidavit in support of a search warrant:

"She further stated that George Upton was going to move the motor home any time now because of the fact that Ricky Kelleher's motel room was raided and that George [Upton] had purchased these stolen items from Ricky Kelleher. This unidentified female stated that she had seen the stolen items but refused to identify herself because 'he'll kill me,' referring to George Upton. I then told this unidentified female that I knew who she was, giving her the name of Lynn Alberico, who I had met on May 16, 1980, at George Upton's repair shop off Summer St., in Yarmouthport. She was identified to me by George Upton as being his girlfriend, Lynn Alberico. The unidentified female admitted that she was the girl that I had named, stating that she was surprised that I knew who she was. She then told me that she'd broken up with George Upton and wanted to burn him. She also told me that she wouldn't give me her address or phone number but that she would contact me in the future, if need be." See Commonwealth v. Upton, 390 Mass., at 564 n. 2, 458 N.E.2d, at 718, n. 2.

Following the phone call, Lieutenant Beland went to Upton's house to verify that a motor home was parked on the property. Then, while other officers watched the premises, Lieutenant Beland prepared the application for a search war- rant, setting out all the information noted above in an accompanying affidavit. He also attached the police reports on the two prior burglaries, along with lists of the stolen property. A Magistrate issued the warrant, and a subsequent search of the motor home produced the items described by the caller and other incriminating evidence. The discovered evidence led to Upton's conviction on multiple counts of burglary, receiving stolen property, and related crimes.

On appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, respondent argued that the search warrant was not supported by a sufficient showing of "probable cause" under the Fourth Amendment. With respect to our Gates opinion, that court said:

"It is not clear that the Gates opinion has announced a significant change in the appropriate Fourth Amendment treatment of applications for search warrants. Looking at what the Court did on the facts before it, and rejecting an expansive view of certain general statements not essential to the decision, we conclude that the Gates opinion deals principally with what corroboration of an informant's tip, not adequate by itself, will be sufficient to meet probable cause standards." 390 Mass., at 568, 458 N.E.2d, at 720.

Prior to Gates, the Fourth Amendment was understood by many courts to require strict satisfaction of a "two-pronged test" whenever an affidavit supporting the issuance of a search warrant relies on an informant's tip. It was thought that the affidavit, first, must establish the "basis of knowledge" of the informant the particular means by which he came by the information given in his report; and, second, that it must provide facts establishing either the general "veracity" of the informant or the specific "reliability" of his report in the particular case. The Massachusetts court apparently viewed Gates as merely adding a new wrinkle to this two-pronged test: where an informant's veracity and/or basis of knowledge are not sufficiently clear, substantial corroboration of the tip may save an otherwise invalid warrant.

"We do not view the Gates opinion as decreeing a standardless 'totality of the circumstances' test. The informant's veracity and the basis of his knowledge are still important but, where the tip is adequately corroborated, they are not elements indispensible [sic] to a finding of probable cause. It seems that, in a given case, the corroboration may be so strong as to satisfy probable cause in the absence of any other showing of the informant's 'veracity' and any direct statement of the 'basis of [his] knowledge.' " 390 Mass., at 568, 458 N.E.2d, at 721.

Turning to the facts of this case, the Massachusetts court reasoned, first, that the basis of the informant's knowledge was not "forcefully apparent" in the affidavit. Id., at 569, 458 N.E.2d, at 721. Although the caller stated that she had seen the stolen items and that they were in the motor home, she did not specifically state that she saw them in the motor home. Second, the court concluded that "[n]one of the common bases for determining the credibility of an informant or the reliability of her information is present here." Ibid. The caller was not a "tried and true" informant, her statement was not against penal interest, and she was not an "ordinary citizen" providing information as a witness to a crime. "She was an anonymous informant, and her unverified assent to the suggestion that she was Lynn Alberico does not take her out of that category." Id., at 570, 458 N.E.2d, at 722.

Finally, the court felt that there was insufficient corroboration of the informant's tip to make up for its failure to satisfy the two-pronged test. The facts that tended to corroborate the informant's story were that the motor home was where it was supposed to be, that the caller knew of the motel raid which took place only three hours earlier, and that the caller knew the name of Upton and his girlfriend. But, much as the Supreme Court of Illinois did in the opinion we reviewed in Gates, the Massachusetts court reasoned that each item of corroborative evidence either related to innocent, nonsuspicious conduct or related to an event that took place in public. To sustain the warrant, the court concluded, more substantial corroboration was needed. The court therefore held that the warrant violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and reversed respondent's convictions.

We think that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts misunderstood our decision in Gates. We did not merely refine or qualify the "two-pronged test." We rejected it as hypertechnical and divorced from "the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act." Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 1310, 93 L.Ed. 1879 (1949). Our statement on that score was explicit. "[W]e conclude that it is wiser to abandon the 'two-pronged test' established by our decisions in Aguilar and Spinelli. In its place we reaffirm the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis that traditionally has informed probable-cause determinations." Gates, 462 U.S., at 238, 103 S.Ct., at 2332. This "totality-of-the-circumstances" analysis is more in keeping with the "practical, common-sense decision" demanded of the magistrate. Ibid.

We noted in Gates that "the 'two-pronged test' has encouraged an excessively technical dissection of informants' tips, with undue attention being focused on isolated issues that cannot sensibly be divorced from the other facts presented to the magistrate." Id., at 234, 103 S.Ct., at 2330 (footnote omitted). This, we think, is the error of the Massachusetts court in this case. The court did not consider Lieutenant Beland's affidavit in its entirety, giving significance to each relevant piece of information and balancing the relative weights of all the various indicia of reliability (and unreliability) attending the tip. Instead, the court insisted on judging bits and pieces of information in isolation against the artificial standards provided by the two-pronged test.

The Supreme Judicial Court also erred in failing to grant any deference to the decision of the Magistrate to issue a warrant. Instead of merely deciding whether the evidence viewed as a whole provided a "substantial basis" for the Magistrate's finding of probable cause, the court conducted a de novo probable-cause determination. We rejected just such after-the-fact, de novo scrutiny in Gates. Id., at 236, 103 S.Ct., at 2331. "A grudging or...

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