United States v. Johnson

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Sandra Denise Johnson
LOCATION: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

DOCKET NO.: 70-8
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)

CITATION: 404 US 802 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1971
DECIDED: Oct 12, 1971

Howard E. Beckler - for the respondent
Samuel R. Pierce, Jr. - for the petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1971 in United States v. Johnson

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Reese, I think we’ll just wait for a moment.


Alright, surely.

Warren E. Burger:

And, we’ll hear arguments next in number 577, United States against Johnson.

Mr. Beckler.

Howard E. Beckler:

Yes, Mr. Chief Justice.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Reese, you may proceed whenever you’re ready now.


Thank you very much.

Mr. Chief Justice, Associate Justices, this case involves a custom search.

The respondent Sandra Denise Johnson, whom I shall occasionally refer to as the defendant, was convicted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California of illegally concealing and transporting narcotics into the United States.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with one judge dissenting, reversed the District Court.

The case is here on certiorari.

The question presented is whether the judgment of a customs inspector based on suspicion in the light of his experience without more, his sufficient basis to require an individual seeking to enter the United States to disrobe in private so that his or her clothing may be searched for contraband.

What were the narcotics that were found?


Heroine, Your Honor.

How much?


Two ounce-- five ounce-- two ounces, I believe.

The principle constitutional and statutory provisions involve the Fourth Amendment and Sections 482 and 1582 of Title 19 of the United States Code.

There are set forth in the government’s brief at pages 2 and 3.

The facts upon which this appeal is based are these.

On Sunday, August 18, 1968, Sandra Denise Johnson and a female traveling companion, one Jolene Harris, crossed the Mexican-American border on foot at San Ysidro, California.

Inspector McCown, who at that time had 27 years experience as a customs inspector at that port of entry, San Ysidro, observed Ms. Johnson and her companion and questioned them.

He thereupon became suspicious that they were carrying contraband, so he arranged for a personal search to be conducted by a female inspector so that their clothes could be thoroughly searched.

This type of search is frequently referred to as a strip search.

The search in this case was conducted by Mrs. Netta Lohman.

She searched each of the women separately in a secondary search room which was a completely closed private room with no windows.

Each of the women was asked to please remove all of her clothing and hand them to Mrs. Lohman.

Mrs. Lohman’s search of the respondent’s clothing disclosed two bundles in the seat of her underpants.

One bundle contained two ounces of heroine, the other Librium and unidentified capsules.

No contraband was found in Ms. Harris’ clothes and the women’s bodies were neither searched nor touched.

In the District Court, a motion to suppress the evidence was made on behalf of the defendant Johnson.