|United States v. Mendenhall
[ Stewart ]
[ Powell ]
[ White ]
United States v. Mendenhall
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
I join Parts I, II-B, II-C, and III of the Court's opinion. Because neither of the courts below considered the question, I do not reach the Government's contention that the agents did not "seize" the respondent within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In my view, we may assume for present purposes that the stop did constitute a seizure. [n1] I would hold -- as did the District Court -- that the federal agents had reasonable suspicion that the respondent was engaging in criminal activity, and, therefore, that they did not violate the Fourth Amendment by stopping the respondent for routine questioning.
The relevant facts may be stated briefly. The respondent arrived at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on a flight from Los Angeles. She was the last passenger to leave the aircraft. [p561] Two agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration watched the respondent enter the terminal, walk to the baggage area, then change directions and proceed to an Eastern Airlines ticket counter. After the respondent accepted a boarding pass for a flight to Pittsburgh, the two agents approached her. They identified themselves as federal officers, and requested some identification. The respondent gave them her driver's license and airline ticket. The agents asked the respondent several brief questions. The respondent accompanied the agents to an airport office, where a body search conducted by a female police officer revealed two plastic bags of heroin.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), establishes that a reasonable investigative stop does not offend the Fourth Amendment. [n2] The reasonableness of a stop turns on the facts and circumstances of each case. In particular, the Court has emphasized (i) the public interest served by the seizure, (ii) the nature and scope of the intrusion, and (iii) the objective facts upon which the law enforcement officer relied in light of his knowledge and expertise. See Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50-51 (1979); Delaware v Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654-655 (1979); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 879-883 (1975); Terry v. Ohio, supra, at 20-22.
The public has a compelling interest in detecting those who would traffic in deadly drugs for personal profit. Few problems affecting the health and welfare of our population, particularly our young, cause greater concern than the escalating use of controlled substances. Much of the drug traffic [p562] is highly organized and conducted by sophisticated criminal syndicates. The profits are enormous. And many drugs, including heroin, may be easily concealed. As a result, the obstacles to detection of illegal conduct may be unmatched in any other area of law enforcement.
To meet this pressing concern, the Drug Enforcement Administration, since 1974, has assigned highly skilled agents to the Detroit Airport as part of a nationwide program to intercept drug couriers transporting narcotics between major drug sources and distribution centers in the United States. Federal agents have developed "drug courier profiles" that describe the characteristics generally associated with narcotics traffickers. For example, because the Drug Enforcement Administration believes that most drugs enter Detroit from one of four "source" cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, or New York), agents pay particular attention to passengers who arrive from those places. See United States v. Van Lewis, 409 F.Supp. 535, 538 (ED Mich.1976), aff'd, 556 F.2d 385 (CA6 1977). During the first 18 months of the program, agents watching the Detroit Airport searched 141 persons in 96 encounters. They found controlled substances in 77 of the encounters, and arrested 122 persons. 409 F.Supp. at 539. When two of these agents stopped the respondent in February, 1976, they were carrying out a highly specialized law enforcement operation designed to combat the serious societal threat posed by narcotics distribution.
Our cases demonstrate that "the scope of [a] particular intrusion, in light of all the exigencies of the case, [is] a central element in the analysis of reasonableness." Terry v. Ohio, supra at 18, n. 15. [n3] The intrusion in this case was quite [p563] modest. Two plainclothes agents approached the respondent as she walked through a public area. The respondent was near airline employees from whom she could have sought aid had she been accosted by strangers. The agents identified themselves and asked to see some identification. One officer asked the respondent why her airline ticket and her driver's license bore different names. The agent also inquired how long the respondent had been in California. Unlike the petitioner in Terry, supra at 7, the respondent was not physically restrained. The agents did not display weapons. The questioning was brief. In these circumstances, the respondent could not reasonably have felt frightened or isolated from assistance.
In reviewing the factors that led the agents to stop and question the respondent, it is important to recall that a trained law enforcement agent may be "able to perceive and articulate meaning in given conduct which would be wholly innocent to the untrained observer." Brown v. Texas, supra at 52, n. 2. Among the circumstances that can give rise to reasonable suspicion are the agent's knowledge of the methods used in recent criminal activity and the characteristics of persons engaged in such illegal practices. Law enforcement officers may rely on the "characteristics of the [p564] area," and the behavior of a suspect who appears to be evading police contact. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. at 884-885. "In all situations, the officer is entitled to assess the facts in light of his experience." Id. at 885.
The two officers who stopped the respondent were federal agents assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Agent Anderson, who initiated the stop and questioned the respondent, had 10 years of experience and special training in drug enforcement. He had been assigned to the Detroit Airport, known to be a crossroads for illicit narcotics traffic, [n4] for over a year, and he had been involved in approximately 100 drug-related arrests. App. 7-8.
The agents observed the respondent as she arrived in Detroit from Los Angeles. The respondent, who appeared very nervous, engaged in behavior that the agents believed was designed to evade detection. She deplaned only after all other passengers had left the aircraft. Agent Anderson testified that drug couriers often disembark last in order to have a clear view of the terminal so that they more easily can detect government agents. Id. at 9. Once inside the terminal, the respondent scanned the entire gate area and walked "very, very slowly" toward the baggage area. Id. at 10 (testimony of Agent Anderson). When she arrived there, she claimed no baggage. Instead, she asked a skycap for directions to the Eastern Airlines ticket counter located in a different terminal. Agent Anderson stood in line immediately behind the respondent at the ticket counter. Although she carried an American Airlines ticket for a flight from Detroit to Pittsburgh, she asked for an Eastern Airlines ticket. An airline employee gave her an Eastern Airlines boarding pass. Id. at 10-11. Agent Anderson testified that drug couriers frequently travel without [p565] baggage and change flights en route to avoid surveillance. Ibid. On the basis of these observations, the agents stopped and questioned the respondent.
The District Court, which had an opportunity to hear Agent Anderson's testimony and judge his credibility, concluded that the decision to stop the respondent was reasonable. [n5] I agree. The public interest in preventing drug traffic is great, and the intrusion upon the respondent's privacy was minimal. The specially trained agents acted pursuant to a well planned, and effective, federal law enforcement program. They observed respondent engaging in conduct that they reasonably associated with criminal activity. Furthermore, the events occurred in an airport known to be frequented by drug couriers. [n6] In light of all of the circumstances, I would hold that the agents possessed reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity when they stopped the respondent in a public place and asked her for identification.
The jurisprudence of the Fourth Amendment demands consideration of the public's interest in effective law enforcement as well as each person's constitutionally secured right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In applying [p566] a test of "reasonableness," courts need not ignore the considerable expertise that law enforcement officials have gained from their special training and experience. The careful and commendable police work that led to the criminal conviction at issue in this case satisfies the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.
1. MR. JUSTICE STEWART concludes in 446 U.S. 551"]Part II-A that there was no "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. He reasons that such a seizure occurs "only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." Ante at 554. MR. JUSTICE STEWART also notes that "‘[t]here is nothing in the Constitution which prevents a policeman from addressing questions to anyone on the streets.'" Ante at 553, quoting Part II-A that there was no "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. He reasons that such a seizure occurs "only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave." Ante at 554. MR. JUSTICE STEWART also notes that "‘[t]here is nothing in the Constitution which prevents a policeman from addressing questions to anyone on the streets.'" Ante at 553, quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 34 (1968) (WHITE, J., concurring). I do not necessarily disagree with the views expressed in Part II-A. For me, the question whether the respondent in this case reasonably could have thought she was free to "walk away" when asked by two Government agents for her driver's license and ticket is extremely close.
2. The Terry Court held that the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment does not apply to a "stop." This category of police conduct must survive only the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of "unreasonable searches and seizures." 392 U.S. at 20.
3. For example, in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979), we considered the justification necessary for a random stop of a moving vehicle. Such stops, which may take place at night or on infrequently traveled roads, interfere with freedom of movement, are inconvenient, and may be frightening. Id. at 657. Thus, we held that police may not stop a moving vehicle without articulable and reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity. We explicitly distinguished our earlier decision in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976), which did not require individualized suspicion for the stop of a motor vehicle at a fixed checkpoint, because a checkpoint stop constitutes a "lesser intrusion" than a random stop. 440 U.S. at 656. The motorist halted at a permanent checkpoint has less reason for anxiety because he "‘can see that other vehicles are being stopped [and] can see visible signs of the officers' authority. . . .'" United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra at 558, quoting United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891,895 (1975).
4. From 1975 through 1978, more than 135 pounds of heroin and 22 pounds of cocaine were seized at the Detroit Airport. In 1978, 1,536 dosage units of other dangerous drugs were discovered there. See 596 F.2d 706, 708, n. 1 (CA6 1979) (Weick, J., dissenting).
5. Although the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court, it did not explicitly reject this conclusion of law. See id. at 707. The dissenting judge noted that the Court of Appeals failed to take issue with the District Court's conclusion that the agents had reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop. Id. at 709 (Weick, J.).
6. The results of the Drug Enforcement Agency's efforts at the Detroit Airport, see supra at 562, support the conclusion that considerable drug traffic flows through the Detroit Airport. Contrary to MR. JUSTICE WHITE's apparent impression, post at 573-574, n. 11, I do not believe that these statistics establish, by themselves, the reasonableness of this search. Nor would reliance upon the "drug courier profile" necessarily demonstrate reasonable suspicion. Each case raising a Fourth Amendment issue must be judged on its own facts.