Spinelli v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Defendant was operating an illegal gambling outfit. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) obtained a search warrant on the basis of observing the defendant, Spinelli (the “defendant”) traveling to and from an apartment, and information supplied by a confidential informant.

Facts of the case

“Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) applied for, and were issued, a search warrant to assist in uncovering evidence of defendant William Spinelli conducting illegal gambling activities. In the affidavit required for the warrant application, the FBI agents stated the defendant was known to “”local law enforcement officials as a bookmaker.”” The FBI related in the affidavit that agents had tracked defendant Spinelli for five days, and that on four of the days, Spinelli was seen crossing into St. Louis, MO, entering an apartment at 1108 Indian Circle Drive. Finally, the agents offered that they “”had 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.”””

Question

If an informer’s tip is necessary to support a finding of probable cause, does there have to be independent information to corroborate the information?

Answer

An informant’s tip must include underlying statements which describe the circumstances which give rise to the assertions.
Bald assertions that a defendant is engaging in illegal behavior is insufficient by itself to support a finding of probable cause.

Conclusion

“On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the application for the warrant was inadequate because it failed to set forth the underlying circumstances necessary to enable the magistrate to independently judge the validity of the informant’s information. Also, the affiant-officers failed to support their claim that their informant was “”credible”” or his information “”reliable.”” The bald assertion that Spinelli was “”known”” as a gambler was entitled to no weight in appraising the magistrate’s decision, and the Court rejected as imprecise the “”totality of circumstances”” approach embraced by the court of appeals. Thus, the affidavit fell short of providing probable cause as necessary to support the issuance of the search warrant. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment from the court of appeals and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings.”

  • Case Brief: 1969
  • Petitioner: William Spinelli
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Warren Court

Citation: 393 US 410 (1969)
Argued: Oct 16 – 17, 1968
Decided: Jan 27, 1969