494 U.S. 259 (1990), 88-1353, United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez

Docket Nº:No. 88-1353
Citation:494 U.S. 259, 110 S.Ct. 1056, 108 L.Ed.2d 222, 58 U.S.L.W. 4263
Party Name:United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez
Case Date:February 28, 1990
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 259

494 U.S. 259 (1990)

110 S.Ct. 1056, 108 L.Ed.2d 222, 58 U.S.L.W. 4263

United States



No. 88-1353

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 28, 1990

Argued Nov. 7, 1989




After the Government obtained an arrest warrant for respondent -- a Mexican citizen and resident believed to be a leader of an organization that smuggles narcotics into this country -- he was apprehended by Mexican police and transported here, where he was arrested. Following his arrest, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, working with Mexican officials, searched his Mexican residences and seized certain documents. The District Court granted his motion to suppress the evidence, concluding that the Fourth Amendment -- which protects "the people" against unreasonable searches and seizures -- applied to the searches, and that the DEA agents had failed to justify searching the premises without a warrant. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Citing Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 -- which held that American citizens tried abroad by United States military officials were entitled to Fifth and Sixth Amendment protections -- the court concluded that the Constitution imposes substantive constraints on the Federal Government, even when it operates abroad. Relying on INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032 -- where a majority assumed that illegal aliens in the United States have Fourth Amendment rights -- the court observed that it would be odd to acknowledge that respondent was entitled to trial-related rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, but not to Fourth Amendment protection.

Held: 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. Pp. 264-275.

(a) If there were a constitutional violation in this case, it occurred solely in Mexico, since a Fourth Amendment violation is fully accomplished at the time of an unreasonable governmental intrusion whether or not the evidence seized is sought for use in a criminal trial. Thus, the Fourth Amendment functions differently from the Fifth Amendment, whose privilege against selfincrimination is a fundamental trial right of criminal defendants. P. 264.

(b) The Fourth Amendment phrase "the people" seems to be a term of art used in [110 S.Ct. 1058] select parts of the Constitution, and contrasts with the words "person" and "accused" used in Articles of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments regulating criminal procedures. This suggests that "the people"

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refers to a class of persons who are part of a national community or who have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community. Pp. 264-266.

(c) The Fourth Amendment's drafting history shows that its purpose was to protect the people of the United States against arbitrary action by their own Government, and not to restrain the Federal Government's actions against aliens outside United States territory. Nor is there any indication that the Amendment was understood by the Framers' contemporaries to apply to United States activities directed against aliens in foreign territory or in international waters. Pp. 266-268.

(d) The view that every constitutional provision applies wherever the Government exercises its power is contrary to this Court's decisions in the Insular Cases, which held that not all constitutional provisions apply to governmental activity even in territories where the United States has sovereign power. See, e.g., Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298. Indeed, the claim that extraterritorial aliens are entitled to rights under the Fifth Amendment -- which speaks in the relatively universal term of "person" -- has been emphatically rejected. Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 784. Pp. 268-269.

(e) Respondent's reliance on Reid, supra, is misplaced, since that case stands only for the proposition that United States citizens stationed abroad could invoke the protection of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Similarly, those cases in which aliens have been determined to enjoy certain constitutional rights establish only that aliens receive such protections when they have come within the territory of, and have developed substantial connections with, this country. See, e.g., Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 212. Respondent, however, is an alien with no previous significant voluntary connection with the United States, and his legal but involuntary presence here does not indicate any substantial connection with this country. The Court of Appeals' reliance on INS v. Lopez-Mendoza, supra, is also misplaced, since that case assumed that, but did not expressly address the question whether, the Fourth Amendment applies to illegal aliens in the United States. Even assuming such aliens -- who are in this country voluntarily and presumably have accepted some societal obligations -- would be entitled to Fourth Amendment protections, their situation differs from that of respondent, who had no voluntary connection with this country that might place him among "the people." This Court's decisions expressly according differing protection to aliens than to citizens also undermine respondent's claim that treating aliens differently under the Fourth Amendment violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 269-273.

(f) The Court of Appeals' rule would have significant and deleterious consequences for the United States in conducting activities beyond its

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borders. The rule would apply not only to law enforcement operations abroad, but also to other foreign operations -- such as armed forces actions -- which might result in "searches and seizures." Under the rule, aliens with no attachment to this country might bring actions for damages to remedy claimed violations of the Fourth Amendment in foreign countries or in international waters, and Members of the Executive and Legislative Branches would be plunged into a sea of uncertainty as to what might be reasonable in the way of searches and seizures conducted abroad. Any restrictions on searches and seizures incident to American action abroad must be imposed by the political branches through diplomatic understanding, treaty, or legislation. Pp. 273-275.

[110 S.Ct. 1059] 856 F.2d 1214 (CA9 1988), reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 275. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 279. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 279. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 297.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether the Fourth Amendment applies to the search and seizure by United States agents of property that is owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country. We hold that it does not.

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Respondent Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez is a citizen and resident of Mexico. He is believed by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to be one of the leaders of a large and violent organization in Mexico that smuggles narcotics into the United States. Based on a complaint charging respondent with various narcotics-related offenses, the Government obtained a warrant for his arrest on August 3, 1985. In January, 1986, Mexican police officers, after discussions with United States Marshals, apprehended Verdugo-Urquidez in Mexico and transported him to the United States Border Patrol station in Calexico, California. There, United States Marshals arrested respondent and eventually moved him to a correctional center in San Diego, California, where he remains incarcerated pending trial.

Following respondent's arrest, Terry Bowen, a DEA agent assigned to the Calexico DEA office, decided to arrange for searches of Verdugo-Urquidez's Mexican residences located in Mexicali and San Felipe. Bowen believed that the searches would reveal evidence related to respondent's alleged narcotics trafficking activities and his involvement in the kidnaping and torture-murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena Salazar (for which respondent subsequently has been convicted in a separate prosecution). Bowen telephoned Walter White, the Assistant Special Agent in charge of the DEA office in Mexico City, and asked him to seek authorization for the search from the Director General of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP). After several attempts to reach high-ranking Mexican officials, White eventually contacted the Director General, who authorized the searches and promised the cooperation of Mexican authorities. Thereafter, DEA agents working in concert with officers of the MFJP searched respondent's properties in Mexicali and San Felipe and seized certain documents. In particular, the search of the Mexicali residence uncovered a tally sheet, which the Government

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believes reflects the quantities of marijuana smuggled by Verdugo-Urquidez into the United States.

The District Court granted respondent's motion to suppress evidence seized during the searches, concluding that the Fourth Amendment applied to the searches and that the DEA agents had failed to justify searching respondent's premises without a warrant. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 856 F.2d 1214 (1988). It cited this Court's decision in Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), which held that American citizens tried by United States military authorities in a foreign country were entitled to the protections of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, and concluded...

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