448 U.S. 438 (1980), 79-448, Reid v. Georgia

Docket Nº:No. 79-448
Citation:448 U.S. 438, 100 S.Ct. 2752, 65 L.Ed.2d 890
Party Name:Reid v. Georgia
Case Date:June 30, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 438

448 U.S. 438 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 2752, 65 L.Ed.2d 890




No. 79-448

United States Supreme Court

June 30, 1980




Upon his early morning arrival at the Atlanta Airport on a eommercial flight, petitioner was seen by a federal narcotics agent to look occasionally backward at a second man. Petitioner and the other man each carried a shoulder bag, and apparently had no other luggage. When the two men left the terminal together, the agent asked them for identification, and, after they had consented to a search of their persons and shoulder bags, petitioner tried to run away, and before being apprehended, abandoned his bag, which was subsequently found to contain cocaine. Prior to his trial on a charge of possessing cocaine, petitioner's motion to suppress the cocaine was granted by the Gergia trial court, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the stop of petitioner was permissible, since he appeared to the agent to fit the so-called "drug courier profile."

Held: The agent could not, as a matter of law, have reasonably suspected petitioner of criminal activity on the basis of the observed circumstances. Only the fact that petitioner preceded another person and occasionally looked backward at him as they proceeded through the concourse relates to their particular conduct, whereas the other circumstances describe a very large category of presumably innocent travelers. The fact that the agent believed that petitioner and his companion were attempting to conceal the fact that they were traveling together is too slender a reed to support the seizure.

Certiorari granted; 149 Ga.App. 685, 255 S.E.2d 71, vacated and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.


The petitioner was indicted in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Ga., for possessing cocaine. At a hearing before trial, he moved to suppress the introduction of the cocaine as evidence against him on the ground that it had been seized from him by an agent of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Page 439

The relevant facts were determined at the pretrial hearing, and may be recounted briefly. The petitioner arrived at the Atlanta Airport on a commercial airline flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the early morning hours of August 14, 1978. The passengers left the plane in a single file and proceeded through the concourse. The petitioner was observed by an agent of the DEA, who was in the airport for the purpose of uncovering illicit commerce in narcotics. Separated from the petitioner by several persons was another man, who carried a shoulder bag like the one the petitioner carried. As they proceeded through the concourse past the baggage claim area, the petitioner occasionally looked backward in the direction of the second man. When they reached the main lobby of the terminal, the second man caught up with the petitioner and spoke briefly with him. They then left the terminal building together.

The DEA agent approached them outside of the building, identified himself as a federal narcotics agent, and asked them to show him their airline ticket stubs and identification, which they did. The airline tickets had been purchased with the petitioner's credit card, and indicated that the men had stayed in Fort Lauderdale only one day. According to the agent's testimony, the men appeared nervous during the encounter. The agent then asked them if they would agree to return to the terminal and to consent to a search of their persons and their shoulder bags. The agent testified that the petitioner nodded his head affirmatively, and that the other responded, "Yeah, okay." As the three of them entered the terminal, however, the petitioner began to run, and before he was apprehended, abandoned his shoulder bag. The bag, when recovered, was found to contain cocaine.

The Superior Court granted the petitioner's motion to suppress the cocaine, concluding that it had been obtained as a result of a seizure of him by the DEA agent without an articulable suspicion that he was unlawfully carrying narcotics. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed. 149 Ga.App. 685,

Page 440

255 S.E.2d 71. It held that the stop of the petitioner was permissible, citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), since the petitioner, "in a number of respects, fit a `profile' of drug couriers compiled by the [DEA]." 149 Ga.App. at 686, 255 S.E.2d at 72. The appellate court also concluded that the petitioner had consented to return to the terminal for a search of his person, and that, after he had attempted to flee and had discarded his shoulder bag, there existed probable cause for the search of the bag.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments' prohibition of searches and seizures that are not supported by some objective justification governs all seizures of the person,

including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional...

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