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United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez

    Brief Fact Summary
    The Government (Plaintiff), prosecuting Verdugo-Urquidez (Defendant), a Mexican, for narcotics violations, claimed that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to foreign nationals arrested outside the United States.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    The Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property that is owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country.

    Facts
    The Government (Plaintiff) suspected that Verdugo-Urquidez (Defendant), a Mexican national residing in Mexico, was a drug kingpin.  At the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) request, Defendant was arrested and turned over to DEA officials at the border.  With the Mexican officials cooperation, DEA officials then searched his two residences and found incriminating evidence.  Defendant was indicted on a number of narcotics violation counts and moved to suppress.  The motion was granted.  The Government (Plaintiff) appealed, arguing that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to foreign nationals arrested outside U.S. territory.  A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue
    Does the Fourth Amendment apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property that is owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country?

    Held
    (Rehnquist, C.J.)  No.  The Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property that is owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country.  Any restrictions on overseas searches and seizures must be imposed by the political branches through diplomatic understanding, treaty, or legislation.  Reversed.

    Dissent
    (Brennan, J.)  The court today creates an antilogy: the Constitution authorizes our government to enforce our criminal laws abroad, but the Fourth Amendment does not travel with government agents when they exercise this authority.

    Concurrence
    (Kennedy, J.)  Due to the conditions and considerations of this case, adherence to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement would be impracticable and irregular.

    Discussion
    The court acknowledged that the Fifth Amendment would protect foreign nationals.  It tried to distinguish the Fourth Amendment, which applies only to “the people,†from the Fifth Amendment, which speaks in the relatively universal term of “person.â€Â  The dissent disagreed on this point.


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