Monday, November 10, 2008

Reasonable suspicion is required to justify border search of cruise ship passenger's cabin

In a matter of first impression, the Third Circuit ruled in United States v. Whitted, 06-3271 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2008) that reasonable suspicion was required to justify a border search of a passenger cabin on a cruise ship arriving in the United States from a foreign port. The Court found that a passenger's private living quarters while on a ship were more akin to an individual's home than an automobile and, therefore, were entitled to more rigorous Fourth Amendment protection. As such, a search of a cruise ship passenger's cabin at the functional equivalent of a border constituted a non-routine border search which must be supported by reasonable suspicion.

Applying this standard, the Third Circuit concluded that reasonable suspicion existed to support the search in this case. Customs officials had a particularized and objective basis to suspect that defendant was involved in drug smuggling where cruise ship traveled to drug source countries, defendant had previously traveled to several known narcotics source countries, purchased his ticket just prior to ship's date of departure, may have paid for ticket in cash, and had record of felony drug convictions, and officials did not engage in profiling, but rather, authorities at port had found defendant's behavior suspicious and entered lookout for him into Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS) database.

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