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Illinois v. Gates


Officers received an anonymous letter that included statements that the defendants, a husband and wife, were selling drugs. The letter indicated Mrs. Gates would drive the Gates’ car to Florida on May 3rd to be loaded with drugs, and Mr. Gates would fly down a few days later to drive the car back; that the car’s trunk would be loaded with drugs; and that defendants presently had over $100,000 worth of drugs in their basement. An officer located the Gates’ address and learned that Mr. Gates made a reservation for a May 5th flight to Florida. Arrangements for surveillance of the flight where made with a DEA agent. The surveillance disclosed that Mr. Gates took the flight, stayed overnight in a motel room registered in Mrs. Gates name, and left the following morning with a woman in a car bearing an Illinois license plate issued to Mr. Gates, heading north on an interstate highway. A search warrant for defendants’ residence and automobile was then obtained based upon the anonymous letter and the government’s corroboration.


Whether the officers’ affidavit and the anonymous letter establish sufficient facts to satisfy the Aguilar-Spinelli probable cause test?


No. However, the Supreme Court created a totality-of-the-circumstances test.


The facts failed to meet the Aguilar-Spinelli “two-pronged test” of (1) revealing the informant’s “basis of knowledge” and (2) providing sufficient facts to establish either the informant’s “veracity” or the “reliability” of the informant’s report. However, the Court held that the overly rigid Aguilar-Spinelli test should be set aside when a common-sense test is more useful in determining whether “probable cause” exists. The task of the issuing magistrate is simply to make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place. The duty of a reviewing court is to ensure that the magistrate has a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed. Therefore, the Court created the “totality of the circumstances” test to replace (or supplement) the Aguilar-Spinelli test. In this case, the totality of the circumstances indicated that the information was truthful and created probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant.


462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct 2317 (1983)

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