United States v. Montoya De Hernandez

Facts of the Case

Upon her arrival at Los Angeles International Airport on a flight from Bogota, Colombia, respondent

Question

Could Montoya de Hernandez be lawfully be detained for the period of four days by customs officials who reasonably suspected that she was attempting to smuggle illegal drugs in her body?

CONCLUSION

Yes. Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing for a 7-2 majority, reversed the court of appeals. The Supreme Court held that detention of a traveler at an international border is justified if customs agents reasonably suspect that the traveler is smuggling illegal drugs in their body. The facts in this case supported that reasonable suspicion. Given the manner in which the drugs were concealed, Montoya de Hernandez’s detention was not unreasonably long. Justice John Paul Stevens concurred in the judgment, writing that the detention was justified because Montoya de Hernandez refused to consent to the x-ray.Justice William J. Brenan dissented, arguing that government officials should not have a lower standard for detaining someone at an international border than in the interior of the United States. Indefinite detentions are only reasonable with approval of a magistrate, and that approval can only be given if there is probable cause.

Case Information

  • Citation: 473 US 531 (1985)
  • Argued: Apr 24, 1985
  • Decided Jul 1, 1985Granted: Jan 21, 1985