United States v. Mendenhall

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Mendenhall
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-1821
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 544 (1980)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1980
DECIDED: May 27, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Mr. Andrew L. Frey - on behalf of the Petitioner
F. Randall Karfonta - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Mendenhall

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1980 in United States v. Mendenhall

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in 78-1821, United States v. Mendenhall.

Mr. Frey, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case is here on writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reversing respondent's conviction for possession of heroin on the ground that the heroin in question had been discovered as a result of an illegal search.

The case began when two trained DEA agents assigned to the Detroit Airport observed respondent deplane from an early morning flight from Los Angeles which they knew to be a major source city for heroin.

The agents became suspicious when she exhibited unusual nervousness and scanned the terminal area as though looking for surveillance.

After following her through the airport and having their suspicions reinforced, they approached her as she was proceeding down the concourse toward the gate for an Eastern Airlines flight to Pittsburgh.

They identified themselves as federal agents and asked if she would show them some identification and her ticket.

She did so and they discovered that she was traveling under an assumed name.

After several more questions, they asked if she would accompany them to the nearby DEA office for further questioning, which she did.

Once inside the office, the agents asked respondent if she would consent to a search of her pocketbook and of her person, informing her that she had a right to refuse consent to the search.

She consented and the ensuing search disclosed over half a pound of heroin.

The entire encounter took about ten minutes.

The District Court found that the agents had a reasonable --

Warren E. Burger:

You mean preceding the search?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

The initial encounter in the airport concourse took about two or three minutes, and then the further events in the DEA office took another five to ten minutes.

Warren E. Burger:

Including the search?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

I believe that is what the evidence was.

In any event, up to the point where the consent was given to the search was a relatively brief period of only a few minutes.

The District Court found that the agents had a reasonable suspicion that respondent was engaged in criminal activities at the time they first approached her, that she went to the office with the agents voluntarily in a spirit of apparent cooperation, and that she thereafter voluntarily consented to the search.

Byron R. White:

Mr. Frey, do you think that when you say there was a reasonable suspicion from the outset, are you talking in Terry terms or not?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

The District Court I think was talking in Terry terms.

Byron R. White:

How about you?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

Well, I intend to devote most of my argument to the question of whether this was a Terry stop and if so whether the quantum of suspicion was sufficient to --

Byron R. White:

For the moment, you are telling us what the District Court held?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

I am telling you what the District Court held, that's correct.

I think ultimately my answer is probably no, that the standard is not the same as Terry but, rather, the lesser standard that --

Byron R. White:

So you don't think that at the time they first spoke to her that they had a right to pat her down?

Mr. Andrew L. Frey:

No, I don't think they had a right to pat her down and frisk her but that relates to the reasonable perception that she might be dangerous, which I don't think they had.

William H. Rehnquist:

But it also depends on whether there was a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.