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No. 98-9349. Argued February 29, 2000-Decided April 17, 2000

Border Patrol Agent Cantu boarded a bus in Texas to check the immigration status of its passengers. As he walked off the bus, he squeezed the soft luggage which passengers had placed in the overhead storage space. He squeezed a canvas bag above petitioner's seat and noticed that it contained a "brick-like" object. Mter petitioner admitted owning the bag and consented to its search, Agent Cantu discovered a "brick" of methamphetamine. Petitioner was indicted on federal drug charges. He moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that Agent Cantu conducted an illegal search of his bag. The District Court denied the motion and found petitioner guilty. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion, holding that Agent Cantu's manipulation of the bag was not a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Held: Agent Cantu's physical manipulation of petitioner's carry-on bag violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches. A traveler's personal luggage is clearly an "effect" protected by the Amendment, see United States v. Place, 462 U. S. 696, 707, and it is undisputed that petitioner possessed a privacy interest in his bag. The Government's assertion that by exposing his bag to the public, petitioner lost a reasonable expectation that his bag would not be physically manipulated is rejected. California v. Ciraolo, 476 U. S. 207, and Florida v. Riley, 488 U. S. 445, are distinguishable, because they involved only visual, as opposed to tactile, observation. Physically invasive inspection is simply more intrusive than purely visual inspection. Under this Court's Fourth Amendment analysis, a court first asks whether the individual, by his conduct, has exhibited an actual expectation of privacy; that is, whether he has shown that "he [sought] to preserve [something] as private." Smith v. Maryland, 442 U. S. 735, 740. Here, petitioner sought to preserve privacy by using an opaque bag and placing it directly above his seat. Second, a court inquires whether the individual's expectation of privacy is "one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable." Ibid. Although a bus passenger clearly expects that other passengers or bus employees may handle his bag, he does not expect that they will feel the bag in an exploratory manner. But this is exactly what the agent did here. Pp. 336-339.

167 F.3d 225, reversed.


REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p.339.

M. Carolyn Fuentes argued the cause for petitioner.

With her on the briefs were Lucien B. Campbell and Henry

Jeffrey A. Lamken argued the cause for the United States.

With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben. *

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a law enforcement officer's physical manipulation of a bus passenger's carry-on luggage violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches. We hold that it did.

Petitioner Steven Dewayne Bond was a passenger on a Greyhound bus that left California bound for Little Rock, Arkansas. The bus stopped, as it was required to do, at the permanent Border Patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Border Patrol Agent Cesar Cantu boarded the bus to check the immigration status of its passengers. After reaching the back of the bus, having satisfied himself that the passengers were lawfully in the United States, Agent Cantu began walking toward the front. Along the way, he squeezed the soft luggage which passengers had placed in the overhead storage space above the seats.

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. by William J. Mertens and Barbara Bergman; and for the Pro Bono Criminal Assistance Project by David L. Heilberg.

Stephen R. McSpadden filed a brief for the National Association of Police Organizations as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

Full Text of Opinion


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