United States v. Montoya de Hernandez

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Rosa Elvira Montoya de Hernandez
LOCATION: Los Angeles International Airport

DOCKET NO.: 84-755
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 531 (1985)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1985
DECIDED: Jul 01, 1985
GRANTED: Jan 21, 1985

ADVOCATES:
Mr. Andrew L. Frey - on behalf of the Petitioner
Peter Marvin Horstman - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Customs officials stopped Rosa Elvira Montoya de Hernandez at the Los Angeles Airport, where she arrived after a flight from Bogota, Columbia. Montoya de Hernandez’s passport revealed eight recent trips from Bogota to Miami or Los Angeles. After further questioning, officials detained Montoya de Hernandez under suspicion that she was smuggling drugs in her alimentary canal. After 16 hours of detention where Montoya de Hernandez did not speak or use the bathroom, officials obtained a court order for an x-ray and other tests. At the hospital, a doctor removed a balloon filled with cocaine from her rectum. Over the next four days, Montoya de Hernandez passed 88 balloons filled with cocaine, totaling 528 grams. At trial, the district court admitted the cocaine into evidence and convicted Montoya de Hernandez on federal drug charges. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Montoya de Hernandez’s detention violated the Fourth Amendment because customs officials did not have a “clear indication” that she was smuggling drugs.

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?

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