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Spinelli v. United States


The FBI tracked the defendant, a known bookie and gambler, for five days. The agents saw him drive from East St. Louis into St. Louis and park in an apartment house lot. They observed him enter a particular apartment in that building. The apartment that the defendant entered had two telephone lines. A confidential informant told the agents that the two phone lines were being used for a gambling operation. However, the informant did not personally observe the defendant at work as a bookmaker, nor had the informant ever place any bets with the defendant. The informant came by his information indirectly, and did not explain why his sources were reliable. The agents obtained a search warrant.


Whether the agents established probable cause to search the defendant’s apartment?


No. The agents were not able to establish the reliability of their information.


An informant’s tip must be measured against Aguilar’s standards so that its probative
value can be assessed. If the tip is found inadequate under Aguilar, then the other
allegations that corroborate the information contained in the report should be
considered. In this case, all the government could show was that the defendant entered
an apartment that contained two telephone lines, had knowledge that he may be a
bookmaker and gambler, and had an unconfirmed statement that the phone lines were
being used for a gambling operation. This did not establish probable cause for the
issuance of a search warrant.

NOTE: This led to the creation of the Aguilar- Spinelli rule. This is a two-pronged test
that courts use to determine the trustworthiness of information derived from
anonymous sources in the search for probable cause.


393 U.S. 410, 89 S. Ct. 584 (1969)

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