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Law School Case Brief

Aguilar v. Texas - 378 U.S. 108, 84 S. Ct. 1509 (1964)

Rule:

Although an affidavit may be based on hearsay information and need not reflect the direct personal observations of the affiant, the magistrate must be informed of some of the underlying circumstances from which the informant concluded that the narcotics were where he claimed they were, and some of the underlying circumstances from which the officer concluded that the informant, whose identity need not be disclosed, was "credible" or his information "reliable." Otherwise, the inferences from the facts which lead to the complaint will be drawn not by a neutral and detached magistrate, as the Constitution requires, but instead, by a police officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime, or by an unidentified informant. 

Facts:

A Texas justice of the peace issued a warrant to search for narcotics in defendant's home; the warrant was based on an affidavit filed by two municipal police officers and reciting that affiants received reliable information from a credible person, and that affiants believed, that narcotics were being kept at defendant's premises for illegal sale and use. Over defendant's objection, heroin seized under the warrant was introduced in evidence at his trial in a Texas state court. Defendant was convicted of illegal possession of heroin, and his conviction was affirmed by the appellate court holding that the evidence obtained as a result of the search was properly admitted as evidence.

Issue:

Did the affidavit of the police officers provide sufficient basis for finding probable cause and issuance of a search warrant?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the search violated U.S. Const. amend. IV because the affidavit did not provide any basis for the determination that probable cause existed. The complaint contained no affirmative allegation that the affiant or the affiant's unidentified source spoke with personal knowledge of the matters contained therein. Additionally, the affidavit did not indicate any sources for the affiant's belief and did not set forth any other sufficient basis upon which a finding of probable cause could be made. The "mere conclusion" that defendant possessed narcotics was not even that of the affiant himself; it was that of an unidentified informant. The affidavit here not only "contains no affirmative allegation that the affiant spoke with personal knowledge of the matters contained therein," it does not even contain an "affirmative allegation" that the affiant's unidentified source "spoke with personal knowledge." For all that appears, the source here merely suspected, believed or concluded that there were narcotics in defendant's possession.  The magistrate here certainly could not "judge for himself the persuasiveness of the facts relied on . . . to show probable cause." He necessarily accepted "without question" the informant's "suspicion," "belief" or "mere conclusion."

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