United States Customs Officers

While investigating a suspected drug smuggling operation the United States Customs Officers viewed two pickup trucks via air and ground surveillance, as they approached a private landing strip. The officers were unaware of the contents of the trucks until they drew near them. As the officers approached the trucks, they smelled marijuana and saw packages covered in dark plastic bags and sealed using tapes, a familiar way of packaging marijuana. They arrested the occupants of the trucks, including, Johns, and took the trucks to the DEA headquarters. On reaching the headquarters, they removed the packages from the pickups. Without acquiring a search warrant, the agents at the DEA headquarters opened a few of the packages three days later and took samples. The test results of the samples revealed that they were marijuana. Johns claimed that the warrantless search three days after the seizure was a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Casper, Benedict, & Perry, 1988).


From the case, it is clear that the US custom officers had a reason to believe that both the trucks and the packages contained illegal goods. The warrantless search, therefore, did not violate the Fourth Amendment merely because it was done three days after seizing the packages. Since the officers had a reason to believe that the trucks contained illegal goods; any expectation of privacy of the contents of the trucks, or the trucks themselves was subject to the authority of the officers to carry out a warrantless search. According to the guidelines with regard to conducting a search on impounded vehicles, a vehicle that is legally in the custody of the police may be searched, based on a probable cause to believe that it has contrabands, and no exigent circumstances is required to justify such searches without warrants (Bridegam, & Marzilli, 2005). Therefore the warrantless search of the contents of the trucks by the Government was not in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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Florida vs. Jimeno (1991)

A Florida County police officer overheard Jimeno’s conversation while talking on a public telephone, and believed that it was a drug transaction. Jimeno drove off in his car, and the officer chased him and pulled him over when he refused to stop at a red light. The police officer told Jimeno that he was suspecting that there were narcotics in his vehicle, and he asked for permission to conduct a search on the car. Jimeno granted him permission and got out of the car to give room for the officer to carry out the search. On the floor of the car was a folded brown paper bag; the police officer opened it and found cocaine. Consequently, he arrested Jimeno and charged him with possession of illegal substances with the intent to distribute (Carmen & Walker, 2011). Jimeno appealed arguing that his permission to search the vehicle did not include the closed paper bag in the car.

In the case, the suspect did not limit the scope of the search when he granted the police officer permission to conduct a search on his car; instead he gave a general permission. Therefore it was reasonable for the officer to conclude that the suspect’s approval to search the car was inclusive of everything else within the car, including the paper bag that contained the cocaine. If the suspect would have placed a limit on the scope of the search, then he would have been right to claim that his permission did not include the search of the closed paper bag (Mikula, Mabunda, & Marion, 1999). But since it is not the case, the police did not require any specific authorization to search the paper bag, since the suspect’s general consent extended to all the other items in the car.

Wilson vs. Arkansas (1995)

Arkansas State Police officers acted on information that were given to them by a unanimous person who had purchased drugs in Jacobs’s home, giving them a probable cause to seek a warrant to conduct a search in the home. The informant told the police that Sharlene Wilson had pointed a pistol on her face, threatening to kill her should she inform the police. There was also an affidavit that showed that Jacobs had been convicted of firebombing and arson in the past. After being issued the warrant, the officers proceeded to search the home. On arrival, they found the door open, and got in without knocking, but they announced that they were the police and that they had a search warrant. After searching the house, the police found evidence to prove that a drug transaction was going on in the house; they seized the evidence and arrested Wilson and Jacobs. Wilson attempted to have the evidence suppressed based on the officers’ failure to follow the knock and announce rule prior to entering the house, and therefore according to him, the search was unreasonable (LaFave, 2004). The motion was not granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court, so Wilson made an appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The issue, in this case, is whether the police officers violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the home of Jacobs without knocking. I think that the unannounced entry by the officers was very unreasonable. It has been a tradition of the common law for police officers intending to conduct a search of a homestead with a warrant, to the first knock then announce their presence. Even at the time when the Fourth Amendment was adopted, the knock and announce rule was operational. Therefore the officers should have considered whether the search was reasonable or not, prior to entering the house without knocking. It is, however, important to note that “not all entries must be preceded by an announcement” (Menez, Vile, & Bartholomew, 2004, p. 14). Acquiring a no-knock warrant necessitates that the police officers state adequate facts to accompany their supporting affidavits, in order for a magistrate to conclude that knocking and announcing would lead to destruction of evidence to be seized or danger to the police officers. Therefore, from the case it is reasonable to say that the officers did not have a probable cause to believe that knocking would have caused a threat to their lives or destruction of the evidence, hence they violated the Fourth Amendment.

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City of Indianapolis vs. Edmond (2000)

Indiana police directives put up guidelines for roadblocks specifically for the purpose of interdicting narcotic drugs. They posted the signs to create awareness of a narcotic checkpoint, and stopped people briefly at the checkpoint, telling them that, that was a drug checkpoint. The officers then asked them to produce their vehicle registration, and a driver’s license. Edmond and Palmer were among the people stopped at the checkpoint. Though they were not arrested, they “both filed a class action lawsuit”, claiming that such checkpoints were not reasonable under the Fourth Amendment (French-Cooper & Spalding University, 2006, p. 10).

The Court refused to allow such a roadblock whose main purpose was to unearth the evidence of a general unlawful activity (in this case, narcotic interdiction). The courts however pointed out that, the decision did not prevent police officers from establishing emergency roadblocks to seizure fleeing criminals, or to prevent a looming danger, for instance, a terrorist attack. In addition, the court also said that the decision did not prevent the police officers, while putting up a lawful roadblock, from seizing a motorist found with unrelated crime to the purpose of the roadblock, for instance, if a police officer smelled marijuana in a motorist’s vehicle, while checking for vehicle registration and driver’s license. In such instances, the police would have a probable cause to conduct a further search of the vehicle for any evidence of marijuana.

The issue in this case is whether the roadblocks set by the Indiana police directives for the purpose of interdicting narcotics violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. I agree with the court’s decision of declining to allow such a roadblock. This is because, allowing such actions would take away the prerequisite of individualized suspicion in detaining people. In the past, checkpoints have only been identified as limited exclusions to the general rule of no arrest without that particular reasonable doubt necessary (Siefken, Larin, & Payne, 2010). It is however important to note that traffic roadblocks set up with the intention of catching offenders such as drunken drivers, vehicles without licenses, over speeding vehicles etc, remain allowable, as they are part of road safety measures. Roadblocks have been and will still remain effective tools to find out if a vehicle is registered, or if a motorist has a driving license.

Illinois vs. Wardlow (2000)

Wardlow fled on foot, while carrying an opaque parcel he saw a convoy of Illinois police officers coming to his neighborhood, an area that was famous for intense drug trafficking. The officers soon caught up with him and arrested him. They conducted a search on Wardlow, and his package and felt something heavy and hard like a gun inside the parcel. When they opened it, they found a revolver. The Illinois court held that there must be a minimum level of justification for a stop to be carried out on individuals, even if there was less reasonable suspicion that the probable cause (Woody, 2006).

The issue here is: was the search and seizure of Wardlow reasonable? A police officer is justified to stop a person if he has a reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place (Bessette, 2006). As in the case of Wardlow, the fact that he was running away from the police, coupled with his presence in a high crime area was enough to make the police believe that a criminal activity was going on, and therefore the seizure and search was justifiable.

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