United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez

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United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 7, 1989
Decided February 28, 1990
Full case name United States v. Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez
Citations 494 U.S. 259 (more)
110 S. Ct. 1056; 108 L. Ed. 2d 222; 1990 U.S. LEXIS 1175; 58 U.S.L.W. 4263
Prior history On writ of cert. to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by White, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy
Concurrence Kennedy
Concurrence Stevens
Dissent Brennan, joined by Marshall
Dissent Blackmun
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990),[1] was a United States Supreme Court decision that determined that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to searches and seizures by United States agents of property owned by a nonresident alien in a foreign country.


Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez, a Mexican citizen reputed to be a drug-lord involved in the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar, was arrested and brought to the United States. The DEA decided that it would be a good idea to search the defendant's home, so agents received authorization from the Mexican government to conduct the search. The agents found documents believed to be the defendant's records of his marijuana shipments.

When the government sought to introduce the documents as evidence in court, the defendant objected, asserting that they were obtained without a warrant, and therefore could not constitutionally be used at trial. The United States District Court agreed, and invoked the exclusionary rule to suppress the documents (i.e. to prevent them from being used as evidence). The government appealed this ruling, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The government then appealed to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court had to determine whether the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures applied, where, United States agents searched and seized property owned by a nonresident alien in a foreign country.


Chief Justice Rehnquist authored the Opinion for the Court, joined by Justices White, Scalia, Kennedy and O'Connor, contending that "the people" intended to be protected by the Fourth Amendment were the people of the United States, and that the defendant's "legal but involuntary presence" on U.S. soil (a direct result of his arrest) failed to create a sufficient relationship with the U.S. to allow him to call upon the Constitution for protection.[1]

Justice Kennedy also authored a concurring opinion, contending that the application of the Fourth Amendment in cases such as this would interfere with the ability of the U.S. to engage in actions designed to protect the nation's interests abroad.

Justice Stevens also authored a concurring opinion, contending that the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures does apply in such cases, but concluding that this search and seizure was reasonable, because it was done with the permission and assistance of the government of Mexico, and because no U.S. court would have had the authority to issue a warrant for such a search.


Justice Brennan dissented, joined by Justice Marshall, contending that the Fourth Amendment was indeed intended by the framers to apply to any action undertaken by the federal government. They contended that the Constitution grants the government limited powers, and the application of rights is one such limitation. Therefore, no agent of the federal government could ever conduct a search that was not governed by the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Blackmun also dissented, contending that when a foreign national is charged with a violation of U.S. criminal law, he is being treated as one of the governed.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Soltero, Carlos R. (2006). "U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990) and limits to the applicability of the bill of rights geographically and as to only ‘the people’". Latinos and American Law: Landmark Supreme Court Cases. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 145–156. ISBN 0-292-71411-4. 


  1. ^ U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 260.

External links[edit]

  • ^ Text of United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259 (1990) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia