United States v. Sokolow

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Honolulu International Airport

DOCKET NO.: 87-1295
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 490 US 1 (1989)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1989
DECIDED: Apr 03, 1989

Paul J. Larkin, Jr. - Argued the cause for the United States
Robert P. Goldberg - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Drug Enforcement Administration agents stopped Sokolow in Honolulu International Airport after his behavior indicated he may be a drug trafficker: he paid $2,100 in cash for airline tickets, he was not traveling under his own name, his original destination was Miami, he appeared nervous during the trip, and he checked none of his luggage. Agents arrested Sokolow and searched his luggage without a warrant. Later, at the DEA office, agents obtained warrants allowing more extensive searches and they discovered 1,063 grams of cocaine.


Did the search violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for United States v. Sokolow

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1989 in United States v. Sokolow

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 87-1295, United States against Andrew Sokolow.

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

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case stems from the detention of Respondent outside the Honolulu airport on the ground that he was suspected of narcotics trafficking.

The question presented by this case involves the type of evidence on which a law enforcement officer may rely in making that type of judgment.

It's our submission that the reasonable suspicion inquiry in this context should be answered in the same way that that question is answered in any other context, by looking to the totality of the circumstances, viewing the facts in a common sense manner, and giving weight to the reasonable inferences that a trained and experienced law enforcement officer can draw.

Respondent was detained just as he was about to board a cab outside the Honolulu airport.

At that time the agents knew the following: They knew that Respondent had purchased two round trip open return tickets from Honolulu to Miami for $2,100 by handing the airline ticket agent a $4,000 roll of $20 bills.

The agents knew that Respondent had just spent 20 hours flying 12,000 miles to spend only two days at his destination, which happens to be the nation's principal source city for cocaine.

The agents had reason--

John Paul Stevens:

I didn't understand that.

I, I thought it was an open ticket coming back?

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:


At the time they stopped him, they knew he had only spent two days in Miami.

John Paul Stevens:

And when they stopped him in Los Angeles you mean?

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

Well, they stopped him in Los Angeles on the same day that they stopped him in Honolulu.

John Paul Stevens:

How did they know... how did the police in Los Angeles know this man was coming back on this flight?

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

It's not clear from the record who first told them.

It's clear that they told the people in Honolulu that Respondent was seen in the waiting area waiting for a connecting flight from L.A. to Honolulu, but it's not clear who exactly--

John Paul Stevens:

The record doesn't--

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

--told them that Respondent may have been coming back on that day.

They knew; that is, the agents in Honolulu knew on July 24th that Respondent had booked a flight to return on July 25th, the following day.

It's possible, then, that the agents in Honolulu may have told the agents in L.A. to be on the lookout.

John Paul Stevens:

--Well, I suppose... how did they know... when did they find out that he was going to make the return flight... that he booked the flight on the 24th and came back on the 25th?

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

Let me explain it this way.

He left on the 22nd of July.

John Paul Stevens:


At that time with an open ticket.

Paul J. Larkin, Jr.:

Open ticket.

On the 24th, they learned that he had booked a return for the following day, the 25th.