United States v. Harris,
Annotate this Case
403 U.S. 573 (1971)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Harris, 403 U.S. 573 (1971)
United States v. Harris
Argued March 23, 1971
Decided June 28, 1971
403 U.S. 573
Respondent was convicted of possessing nontaxpaid liquor in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5205(a)(2). The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the federal tax investigator's affidavit supporting the search warrant, the execution of which resulted in the discovery of illicit liquor, was insufficient to establish probable cause. The affidavit stated that respondent had a reputation with the investigator for over four years as being a trafficker in nontaxpaid distilled spirits; during that time, the local constable had located illicit whiskey in an abandoned house under respondent's control; on the date of the affidavit, the affiant had received sworn oral information from a person whom the affiant found to be a prudent person, and who feared for his life should his name be revealed, that the informant had purchased illicit whiskey from the residence described, for a period exceeding two years, most recently within two weeks; that the informant asserted he knew of another person who bought such whiskey from the house within two days; that he had personal knowledge that such whiskey was consumed in a certain outbuilding; and that he had seen respondent go to another nearby outbuilding to obtain whiskey for other persons. The Court of Appeals relied on Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U. S. 108, in stressing that affiant had never alleged that the informant was truthful, but only prudent, and on Spinelli v. United States, 393 U. S. 410, in giving no weight to affiant's assertion concerning respondent's reputation.
Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 403 U. S. 577-585.
412 F.2d 796, reversed.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and MR. JUSTICE STEWART (as to the first sentence of item 1) concluded that:
1. The affidavit in this case, based on a tip similar to the one held sufficient in Jones v. United States, 362 U. S. 257 (which was approved in Aguilar, supra), contains an ample factual foundation
for believing the informant which, when taken in conjunction with the affiant's knowledge of respondent's background, afforded a basis upon which a magistrate could reasonably issue a warrant. Both the affidavit here and the one in Jones (contrary to the situation in Spinelli, supra) purport to relate an unidentified informant's personal observations and recite prior events within his knowledge. While the affidavit here, unlike the Jones affidavit, did not aver that the informant had previously given "correct information," an averment of previous reliability is not essential when supported, as here, by other information; and Spinelli is not to be read as precluding a magistrate's relying on an officer's knowledge of a suspect's reputation. Pp. 403 U. S. 577-583.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE WHITE, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that:
2. The fact that the informant made a statement against his own penal interest when he admitted his illicit liquor purchases provides an additional basis for crediting his tip. Pp. 403 U. S. 583-584.
BURGER, C.J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which BLACK and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Part I of which STEWART, J., and in Part III of which WHITE, J., joined. BLACK, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 403 U. S. 585. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 585. HARLAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 586.