TORRES V. PUERTO RICO

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustia & Oyez
Citation442 U. S. 465
Decision Date18 June 1979

Torres v. Puerto Rico

No. 77-1609

Argued January 10, 1979

Decided June 18, 1979

442 U.S. 465


APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF PUERTO RICO

Syllabus

When appellant arrived at the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, police officers, without a warrant or probable cause to suspect that appellant was carrying contraband, searched his baggage pursuant to a Puerto Rico statute authorizing the police to search the luggage of any person arriving in Puerto Rico from the United States. The search revealed marihuana, and appellant was subsequently charged with and convicted of a drug violation under Puerto Rico law. On appeal, he contended that the search violated the federal constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches; the Puerto Rico Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

Held:

1. The constitutional requirements of the Fourth Amendment apply to Puerto Rico. Both Congress' implicit determinations that the Amendment practically and beneficially may be implemented in Puerto Rico and long experience establish that the Amendment's restrictions on searches and seizures may be applied to Puerto Rico without danger to national interests or risk of unfairness. From 1917 to 1952, Congress by statute afforded equivalent personal rights to Puerto Rico residents, and the Puerto Rico Constitution, which was adopted pursuant to Congress' authority and approved by Congress in 1952, contains the Fourth Amendment's language as well as language reflecting this Court's exegesis of the Amendment. P P. 468-471.

2. The search of appellant's baggage pursuant to statute did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment that there be probable cause to believe that incriminating evidence will be found and that there be a warrant unless exigent circumstances make compliance with this requirement impossible. P. 471.

3. The requirements of a warrant and probable cause are not subject to any exception that applies generally to persons arriving in Puerto Rico from the United States. The statute in question cannot be justified by any analogy to customs searches at a functional equivalent of the international border of the United States; Puerto Rico has no sovereign authority to control entry into its territory. Nor can the statute be sustained by analogy to state inspection provisions designed to implement health and safety legislation, the statute having been construed by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court as one enacted for the purpose of

Page 442 U. S. 466

enforcing criminal laws; moreover, health and safety inspections are generally subject to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. P P. 472-474.

Reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, P. 474.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

I

In 1975, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico enacted legislation authorizing its police to search the luggage of any person arriving in Puerto Rico from the United States. Pub. Law 22, P. R. Laws Ann., Tit. 25, § 1051 et seq. (Supp. 1977). [Footnote 1] The "Statement of Motives" in the preamble to the statute indicates that it was enacted in response to a serious increase in the importation of firearms, explosives, and narcotics from

Page 442 U. S. 467

the mainland, and a concomitant rise in crime on the island. As construed by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, Public Law 22 does not require the police to have probable cause to believe that they will find contraband before they search baggage. However, it does not appear that the luggage of all travelers arriving from the mainland is subject to this kind of search.

Appellant Terry Torres, a resident of Florida, arrived at San Juan's Isla Verde Airport aboard a nonstop commercial flight from Miami. An officer's suspicions were aroused when he observed that Torres seemed nervous, and kept looking at an armed, uniformed officer stationed nearby. There was, however, no articulable reason to suspect that Torres was carrying contraband. When Torres claimed his baggage, the officer stopped him, identified himself as an agent of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, and presented Torres with a card describing the provisions of Public Law 22. The uniformed officer approached at the same time; Torres was taken with his luggage to the Bureau's office at the airport.

Once there, the officer asked Torres if he understood what was written on the card. Torres said that he did, but he objected to having his luggage searched and asked to telephone his uncle, a Puerto Rico attorney. The officer refused to allow him to place the call, stating that he could contact a lawyer if it appeared that he had committed a crime. Torres then yielded to the search and unlocked his bags.

The search revealed one ounce of marihuana, a wooden pipe bearing marihuana residue, and approximately 0,000 in cash. Torres was charged, tried, and convicted of violating 404 of the Controlled Substances Act of Puerto Rico, P.R.Laws Ann., Tit. 24, § 2404 (Supp. 1977). A sentence of from one to three years' imprisonment was imposed.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, Torres contended that the search pursuant to Public Law 22 violated the federal constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches. Only seven of the eight justices of the Puerto Rico

Page 442 U. S. 468

Supreme Court participated in considering the appeal; four of the seven concluded that Public Law 22 violated the Fourth Amendment. Three justices held Public Law 22 constitutional. Article V, § 4, of the Puerto Rico Constitution provides that no law may be held unconstitutional except by a majority of all the members of the Supreme Court. Accordingly, there being only a minority of the justices so holding, the court entered a judgment stating:

"The search of appellant's belongings being based on the provisions of Act No. 22 of August 6, 1975, and considering the absence of the majority vote required by the Constitution to annul said Act, the judgment appealed is affirmed."

(Emphasis added.) We noted probable jurisdiction. 439 U.S. 815 (1978). [Footnote 2]

II

Decisions of this Court early in the century limited the application of the Constitution in Puerto Rico. In Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U. S. 244 (1901), we held that Congress could establish a special tariff on goods imported from Puerto Rico to the United States, and that the requirement that all taxes and duties imposed by Congress be uniform throughout the

Page 442 U. S. 469

United States, Art. I, § 8, cl. 1, was not applicable to the island. Mr. Justice Edward White's concurring opinion announced the doctrine that the United State could acquire territory without incorporating it into the Nation, and that unincorporated territory was not subject to all the provisions of the Constitution. 182 U.S. at 287-344. In support of this doctrine, the concurring opinion emphasized that full application of the Constitution to all territory under the control of the United States would create such severe practical difficulties under certain circumstances as to prohibit the United States from exercising its constitutional power to occupy and acquire new lands. Id. at 305-311.

The distinction between incorporated and unincorporated territories was first adopted by a majority of the Court in Dorr v. United States, 195 U. S. 138 (1904); the Court sustained the refusal of the territorial government of the Philippines to seek indictments by grand jury or afford petit juries in criminal cases. The Court emphasized that imposition of the jury system on people unaccustomed to common law traditions "may be to work injustice and provoke disturbance, rather than to aid the orderly administration of justice." Id. at 195 U. S. 145-146, 195 U. S. 148. It also suggested that the constitutional guarantees as to juries should not be construed so as to hamper Congress in exercising its constitutional authority to govern the territories. Id. at 195 U. S. 148. The doctrine that the Constitution does not guarantee grand and petit juries in unincorporated territories was applied to Puerto Rico, notwithstanding that its residents theretofore had been granted United States citizenship, in Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U. S. 298 (1922).

On the other hand, this Court has held or otherwise indicated that Puerto Rico is subject to the First Amendment Speech Clause, id. at 258 U. S. 314; the Due Process Clause of either the Fifth or the Fourteenth Amendment, Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U. S. 663, 668-669, n. 5 (1974); and the equal protection guarantee of either the Fifth or the

Page 442 U. S. 470

Fourteenth Amendment, Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U. S. 572, 599-601 (1976). In Califano v. Torres, 435 U. S. 1, 4 n. 6 (1978) (per curiam), we assumed without deciding that the constitutional right to travel extends to the Commonwealth.

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137 practice notes
  • Illinois v. Gates, No. 81-430
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 13, 1982
    ...purported to authorize the searches in question without probable cause and without a valid warrant. See, e.g., Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979); Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, supra; Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 20 L.Ed.2d 917 (19......
  • Mangual v. Rotger-Sabat, No. 02-1669.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 21, 2003
    ...but made no other changes to the statute. 2. The residents of Puerto Rico are protected by the First Amendment. Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 469, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979) (citing Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 314, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 3. This letter and the res......
  • Tuaua v. United States, Civil Case No. 12–01143(RJL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 26, 2013
    ...strengthen in ways that are of constitutional significance.” Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 758, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (citing Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 475–476, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979) (Brennan, J., concurring in judgment) (“Whatever the validity of the [Insular Cases] in the parti......
  • Vicenty Martell v. Estado Libre Asoicado De P.R., No. Civ. 98-1352(SEC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • March 29, 1999
    ...L.Ed.2d 452 (1974); Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 599-601, 96 S.Ct. 2264, 49 L.Ed.2d 65 (1976); Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 468-71, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 5. We say presumably because plaintiff does not clearly articulate the bases of his First Amendment cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
136 cases
  • Illinois v. Gates, No. 81-430
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • October 13, 1982
    ...purported to authorize the searches in question without probable cause and without a valid warrant. See, e.g., Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979); Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, supra; Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 20 L.Ed.2d 917 (19......
  • Mangual v. Rotger-Sabat, No. 02-1669.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 21, 2003
    ...but made no other changes to the statute. 2. The residents of Puerto Rico are protected by the First Amendment. Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 469, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979) (citing Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 314, 42 S.Ct. 343, 66 L.Ed. 627 3. This letter and the res......
  • Tuaua v. United States, Civil Case No. 12–01143(RJL).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 26, 2013
    ...strengthen in ways that are of constitutional significance.” Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 758, 128 S.Ct. 2229 (citing Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 475–476, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 (1979) (Brennan, J., concurring in judgment) (“Whatever the validity of the [Insular Cases] in the parti......
  • Vicenty Martell v. Estado Libre Asoicado De P.R., No. Civ. 98-1352(SEC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • March 29, 1999
    ...L.Ed.2d 452 (1974); Examining Board v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 599-601, 96 S.Ct. 2264, 49 L.Ed.2d 65 (1976); Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 468-71, 99 S.Ct. 2425, 61 L.Ed.2d 1 5. We say presumably because plaintiff does not clearly articulate the bases of his First Amendment cl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Insular Cases Run Amok: Against Constitutional Exceptionalism in the Territories.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 8, June 2022
    • June 1, 2022
    ...of the Bill of Rights--to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the 1970s." Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 758 (quoting Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465, 475-76 (1979) (Brennan, J., concurring)). Thus, Boumediene belongs on the list of Supreme Court opinions calling into question the validity of t......

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