Bond v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Skagit County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 98-9349
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 334 (2000)
ARGUED: Feb 29, 2000
DECIDED: Apr 17, 2000

Jeffrey A. Lamken - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent
M. Carolyn Fuentes - San Antonio, Texas, argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

While checking the immigration status of passengers on a bus in Texas, Border Patrol Agent Cesar Cantu squeezed the soft luggage which passengers had placed in the overhead storage space. When Agent Cantu squeezed a canvas bag above Steven Dewayne Bond, Agent Cantu noticed that it contained a "brick-like" object. After Bond admitted owning the bag and consented to its search, Agent Cantu discovered a "brick" of methamphetamine. Bond was indicted on federal drug charges. Bond moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that the agent conducted an illegal search of his bag, when squeezing it, in alleged violation of the Federal Constitution's Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The District Court denied the motion and subsequently found Bond guilty. On appeal, Bond conceded that other passengers had access to his bag, but contended that Agent Cantu manipulated the bag (by squeezing)in a way that other passengers would not, thus constituting an unreasonable search. In affirming the denial of the motion, the Court of Appeals held that Agent Cantu's manipulation of the bag was not a search under the Fourth Amendment.


Does a law enforcement officer's physical manipulation of a bus passenger's carry-on luggage violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches?

Media for Bond v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 2000 in Bond v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 17, 2000 in Bond v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 98-9349, Steven Dewayne Bond versus United States.

Petitioner Bond was a passenger on a Greyhound bus that left California bound for Little Rock, Arkansas.

A Border Patrol agent boarded the bus at a place called Sierra Blanca, Texas which is about 80 miles southeast of El Paso on Interstate 10.

After the agent had checked the immigration status of the passengers he began squeezing the soft luggage in the overhead bins.

When he squeezed petitioner’s canvas bag, he noticed a “brick-like” object.

After obtaining petitioner’s consent to open the bag, the agent discovered a brick of methamphetamine.

The brick had been wrapped in duct tape until it was oval-shaped and then wrapped in a pair of pants.

Petitioner was indicted for conspiracy to possess, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

He moved to suppress the drugs, arguing that the Border Patrol agent had conducted an illegal search of his bag.

The District Court denied the motion petitioner was convicted.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

In an opinion filed today, with the Clerk of Court, we reverse.

It is undisputed that petitioner had a protected privacy interest in his carry-on bag.

The government argues that by exposing the bag to public handling petitioner lost a reasonable expectation that it would not be physically manipulated.

The government relies on our cases that hold that matters open to public observation are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

But those cases involved visual as opposed to tactile observation and thus do not require the result in favor of the Government.

Our traditional Fourth Amendment analysis embraces two questions: first, we ask whether the individual has sought to preserve something as private.

Here petitioner sought to preserve privacy by using an opaque bag and by placing that bag directly above his seat.

Second, we ask whether an individual’s expectation of privacy is one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.

When a bus passenger places a bag in an overhead bin, he expects that other passengers or bus employees may move it for one reason or another, but he does not expect that his bag will be physically manipulated in an exploratory manner and that’s exactly what happened here.

We therefore hold that the agent’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia joins.