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U.S. Supreme Court

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

United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez

No. 88-1353

Argued Nov. 7, 1989

Decided Feb. 28, 1990

494 U.S. 259


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. 494 U. S. 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. 494 U. S. 264.

(b) The Fourth Amendment phrase "the people" seems to be a term of art used in 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"

Page 494 U. S. 260

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. 494 U. S. 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. 494 U. S. 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, 339 U. S. 784. Pp. 494 U. S. 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, 457 U. S. 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. 494 U. S. 269-273.

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

Page 494 U. S. 261

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. 494 U. S. 273-275.

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. 494 U. S. 275. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 494 U. S. 279. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 494 U. S. 279. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 494 U. S. 297.

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