Supreme Court Cases 1999--2000 Term

Article excerpt

During the 1999-2000 term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on three Fourth Amendment cases relating to criminal procedure and a Fifth Amendment case involving the constitutionality of the Miranda rule. Law enforcement officers and their agencies may find these cases particularly important and interesting. Specifically, the Court ruled on 1) whether a law enforcement officer conducts a Fourth Amendment search when physically manipulating a bus passenger's carry-on luggage; 2) whether a law enforcement officer's initial stop is supported by reasonable suspicion when the suspect is both present in an area of expected criminal activity and flees upon seeing the police; 3) whether an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun, without more information, justifies a police officer's stop and frisk of that person; and 4) whether the Miranda rule is a constitutionally based rule.

Bond v. United States, 120 S. Ct. 1462 (2000)

The Supreme Court held that a law enforcement officer's physical manipulation of a bus passenger's carry-on luggage was a search and therefore governed by the Fourth Amendment. Steven Dewayne Bond was a passenger with carry-on luggage on a bus. When the bus stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint, a Border Patrol agent boarded the bus to check the passengers' immigration status. In an effort to locate illegal drugs, the agent began to squeeze the soft luggage, which some passengers had placed in the overhead storage space above their seats. The agent squeezed the canvas bag above Bond's seat and noticed that it contained a "brick-like" object. Bond admitted that the bag was his and consented to its search. When the agent looked inside the bag, he discovered a "brick" of methamphetamine.

Bond was indicted for federal drug charges. Bond moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that the agent conducted an illegal search when he squeezed the bag. The District Court denied his motion to suppress and convicted Bond. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress, holding that the agent's manipulation of the bag was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the agent's manipulation of the bag was a search and that it violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...." What constitutes an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment? The Court's analysis involves two considerations: 1) Did the police conduct at issue constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? and 2) If the conduct constituted a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, then was the search "reasonable"?

Under the first consideration, the Court defines a search as a government infringement of a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. [1] A reasonable expectation of privacy exists when the person's subjective expectation of privacy is objectively reasonable. [2] According to the Court, Bond had a subjective expectation of privacy in his bag [3] because he used an opaque bag and placed it directly above his seat. Bond's expectation of privacy was objectively reasonable because although a bus passenger expects other passengers or bus employees to handle or move his bag when he places it in an overhead storage area, he does not expect that they will feel the bag in an exploratory manner. In this case, the agent's manipulation of Bond's bag was an infringement of Bond's reasonable expectation of privacy because he felt Bond's bag in an exploratory manner when he squeezed it. Thus, the agent's manipulation of the bag constituted a search.

Under the second consideration, any government search conducted without a warrant is per se unreasonable, unless the search falls under a few recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement (e. …