Florida v. J.L.-Withdrawing Permission to "Lie with Impunity": The Demise of "Truly Anonymous" Informants and the Resurrection of the Aguilar/Spinelli Test for Probable Cause

C. Peter Erlinder, William Mitchell College of Law


These two observations: (a) that accurate predictions of legal conduct reveal virtually nothing about the reliability or accuracy of allegations of illegal conduct, and (b) that anonymous informants can never be reasonably relied upon because they can "lie with impunity" without being held accountable, would seem to be truisms.

Nevertheless, for nearly twenty years a majority of the Supreme Court has upheld the use of anonymous informants to justify searches and seizures. This state of affairs is not likely to continue. In Florida v. J.L., decided last term, these simple observations were the basis of a ruling that has sounded the death knell for the "reasonably trustworthy anonymous informant" doctrine that dates back to 1983, when !llinois v. Gates established a "totality of the circumstances" test for determining

probable cause.