United States v. Mendenhall

United States v. Mendenhall Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
446 U.S. 544 (1980)

ISSUE: Was an airline passenger "seized" under the 4th Amdt. when two DEA agents confronted her upon deplaning and asked for her ticket and ID and then asked if she would accompany them to an office for further questioning?
  • D arrived in Detroit from LA on a commercial airline flight and was the last to deplane
  • 2 DEA agents watched her and said that she fit a "drug courier profile" because she was arriving from LA, a known origin point for drugs; she was the last to deplane, appeared very nervous, and scanned the whole area; didn't claim any luggage at baggage claim; and changed airlines for her flight out of Detroit
  • The agents approached her and asked for her ticket and ID; she gave it to them, and they saw the ticket was under a different name
  • The agents returned her ticket and ID and then asked if she would accompany them to an office for further questioning; she agreed
  • In the office, the agents asked her if they could search her and her purse; she said "Go ahead"; a female agent then conducted a strip search which resulted in finding heroin
  • Arrested for possession of heroin
  • Ct. App. concluded that D's consent was not voluntarily given and was the product of official conduct violative of the 4th Amdt.
  • "Seizure": A person is "seized" when, by means of physical force or show of authority, his freedom of movement is restrained
    • Determined by whether a reasonable person under the circumstances would believe he was not free to leave
  • Not "seized": No objective reason for D to believe that she was not free to end the conversation and proceed on her way
    • Agents weren't in uniform and didn't display weapons
    • Didn't demand ID or ticket
    • No inference can be drawn that D didn't think she could leave based on her actions so inconsistent with her own self-interest
  • Voluntarily went to office: Totality of the evidence plainly shows that D voluntarily consented to accompany the officers to the DEA office
    • Just because D was 22, black, and had an 11th-grade education and the officers were 2 white males didn't mean she was coerced
  • None of the courts below reached the seizure question so SCOTUS shouldn't either
  • Agents did have a reasonable suspicion for believing that D was engaging in criminal activity
  • Reasonableness analysis:
    • Compelling public interest in detecting those trafficking in deadly drugs for personal profit
    • Intrusion was quite modest because D couldn't have reasonably felt threatened
    • Agents' keen sense supported objective facts
DISSENT - White:
  • Majority disregards the fact that there's little evidence in the record as to the seizure because it wasn't raised below
    • Should be remanded
  • D's conduct was not "unusual" because it is what anyone changing planes in the airport would do
    • No bag because she changed airlines
  • Undoubtedly seized when taken to the DEA office -- "indistinguishable from traditional arrest"
  • Agent testified that had she wanted to leave, she would have been restrained by force
  • The "seizure" test announced in Mendenhall, i.e., when a reasonable person would feel free to terminate the encounter and go about her business, is an objective test. This means that it is almost immaterial what the particular person thought. Surely a "guilty" person would be more apprehensive when it comes to a police encounter. Think about the test as a reasonable innocent person if that helps.
  • For the complete "seizure" test, see California v. Hodari D.
  • Florida v. Royer: Not seized when approached in an airport concourse and asked for his ticket and ID; hewas seized when the agents asked him to go to the office while retaining his ticket and ID
  • Michigan v. Chesternut: Not seized when a marked police car followed a man running on the side of the road
    • Important that no sirens/flashers used, wasn't commanded to stop, didn't display weapons, didn't use car to block or control D's movements


Leave a Reply