Spinelli v. United States

Spinelli v. United States

United States Supreme Court
393 U.S. 410 (1969)

ISSUE: Was there probable cause for a warrant when the affidavit contained an informant's tip that did not provide information to support its reliability nor did it provide the underlying circumstances which led to the conclusion in the tip?
HOLDING: No, the tip was not sufficient to provide the basis for a finding of probable cause.
  • FBI received a tip from a CI that said that Spinelli was accepting wagers via the two telephone lines in the apartment he frequented
  • FBI's own investigation found that Spinelli frequented the apartment and that there were 2 phone lines associated with the apartment
  • Affidavit for search warrant said that Spinelli was "known" as a bookmaker
  • Convicted of conducting gambling activities
  • D challenged the constitutionality of the search warrant throughout the proceedings
  • Aguilar: Hearsay information from a CI can satisfy PC
    1. Application must set forth some "underlying circumstances" necessary to enable the magistrate independently to judge the validity of the informant's conclusion
    2. Must support that the CI is "credible" or that his information is "reliable"
  • Informant's tip is fundamental because without it, there'd be no PC
  • Being "known" as a bookmaker is given no weight because it is simply an assertion of suspicion
  • Ct. App.'s "totality of the circumstances" approach to reading the affidavit is too broad
  • Tip doesn't pass Aguilar test:
    • Swearing that the CI was "reliable" without offering reasons to support such conclusion is insufficient
    • Insufficient statement of the "underlying circumstances" from which the CI concluded that Spinelli was running a bookmaking operation
      • Without such information, the tip must describe the accused's criminal activity in sufficient detail that the magistrate may know that he is relying on something more substantial than a casual rumor, but no such description here
  • Tip doesn't match Draper: No such detail here as was in the CI's tip in Draper, as the information could have been acquired anywhere
  • Independent investigation doesn't resolve doubts: That Spinelli could have used the telephones in a specified way is insufficient to infer that the CI was trustworthy or that the info in a reliable way
    • Corroboration one small detail of the tip is not enough
    • Phone lines alone don't provide a suspicion of criminal activity


  • This case is no longer good law. Please see Illinois v. Gates for the state of the law in the area of tips from confidential informants.


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