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The United States Constitution Fourth Amendment's requirement of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant is to be applied, not according to a fixed and rigid formula, but rather in the light of the "totality of the circumstances" made known to the magistrate. The court also emphasized that the task of a reviewing court is not to conduct a de novo determination of probable cause, but only to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record supporting the magistrate's decision to issue the warrant.
City police officers, executing a search warrant for a motel room reserved by Richard Kelleher, discovered several items of identification, including credit cards, belonging to two persons whose homes had recently been burglarized, but other items taken in the burglaries, such as jewelry, silver, and gold, were not found. About three hours later, one of the officers received a phone call from an unidentified female who told him that a motor home containing stolen items, including jewelry, silver, and gold, was parked behind George Upton’s home; that respondent had purchased the items from Kelleher; and that respondent was going to move the motor home because of the search of the motel room. The caller also stated that she had seen the stolen items but refused to identify herself because "he'll [referring to respondent] kill me." When the officer told the caller that he knew her name because he had met her and she had been identified as respondent's girlfriend, the caller admitted her identity and told the officer that she had broken up with respondent and "wanted to burn him." Following the call, the officer verified that a motor home was parked on the property and, while other officers watched the premises, prepared an application for a search warrant, setting out the information noted above in an affidavit and also attaching police reports on the two prior burglaries and lists of the stolen property. A Magistrate issued the warrant, and a subsequent search of the motor home produced the items described by the caller and other incriminating evidence. The discovered evidence led to Upton’s conviction on multiple counts of burglary, receiving stolen property, and related crimes. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that the warrant violated the Fourth Amendment because it was not supported by a sufficient showing of probable cause and reversed respondent's convictions. It interpreted Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, as merely refining the previous "two-pronged" test -- which related to an informant's "basis of knowledge" and its "reliability" -- by allowing corroboration of the informant's tip to make up for a failure to satisfy the two-pronged test. The court concluded that the two-pronged test was not met here, and that there was insufficient corroboration of the informant's tip.
Did the district court err in using the two-pronged test as basis for the issuance of the warrant?
The court held that the two-pronged test was rejected in Gates, which instead held that the Fourth Amendment's requirement of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant is to be applied, not according to a fixed and rigid formula, but rather in the light of the "totality of the circumstances" made known to the magistrate, and which emphasized that the task of a reviewing court is not to conduct a de novo determination of probable cause, but only to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a "substantial basis" for the magistrate's decision to issue the warrant. When properly examined in light of Gates, the officer's affidavit in this case provided a substantial basis for the Magistrate's issuance of the warrant.