United States v. Montoya De Hernandez
|United States v. Montoya De Hernandez|
|Argued April 24, 1985
Decided July 1, 1985
|Full case name||United States v. Montoya De Hernandez|
|Citations||473 U.S. 531 (more)|
|The detention of a traveler at the border, beyond the scope of a routine customs search and inspection, is justified at its inception if customs agents, considering all the facts surrounding the traveler and her trip, reasonably suspect that the traveler is smuggling contraband in her alimentary canal; here, the facts, and their rational inferences, known to the customs officials clearly supported a reasonable suspicion that respondent was an alimentary canal smuggler.|
|Majority||Rehnquist, joined by Burger, White, Blackmun, Powell, O'Connor|
|Dissent||Brennan, joined by Marshall|
The Ninth Circuit had reversed a district court's conviction of Rosa Elvira Montoya de Hernandez, the defendant, for federal narcotics offenses, on the grounds that the district court incorrectly refused to suppress evidence used against the defendant. The prosecution appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Montoya de Hernandez entered the United States at Los Angeles International Airport from Bogotá, Colombia. Customs inspectors detained Montoya de Hernandez upon her arrival based upon a suspicion that she was smuggling drugs. After 16 hours and a rectal examination by a physician that produced a balloon containing a foreign substance, she passed balloons filled with cocaine from her alimentary canal. The defendant had claimed that she was pregnant, and she was given the opportunity to undergo an X-ray, but she refused after being informed that she would have to be handcuffed en route to the hospital. Over the next three days, the defendant passed 88 balloons filled with over one pound of cocaine.
Montoya de Hernandez alleged that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated by an unreasonable detention. The government contended that the inspectors had reasonable suspicion that the defendant-respondent was a drug smuggler. She had a noticeable bulge in her abdomen when she was detained, and a female inspector searched her revealing that Montoya de Hernandez was wearing two sets of elastic underpants and had paper towels lining her crotch area (as balloon swallowing makes bowel movements hard to control).
The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by William Rehnquist and joined by Warren Burger, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and Sandra Day O'Connor, reversed the Ninth Circuit's holding that defendant was subject to unreasonable search and seizure and upheld the conviction entered for charges brought by the government because custom agents were subject to a reasonable suspicion standard under the Fourth Amendment for detaining suspects.
The Supreme Court held that the detention of a traveler at the border, beyond the scope of a routine customs search and inspection, is justified at its inception if customs agents, considering all the facts surrounding the traveler and her trip, reasonably suspect that the traveler is smuggling contraband in her alimentary canal; here, the facts, and their rational inferences, known to the customs officials clearly supported a reasonable suspicion that respondent was an alimentary canal smuggler.
John Paul Stevens filed a concurring opinion while William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented, stating that the detention of Montoya de Hernandez was more akin to the behavior of a police state rather than that of a free society.
- Border search exception to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement.
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 473