Torres v. Puerto Rico
Annotate this Case
442 U.S. 465 (1979)
U.S. Supreme Court
Torres v. Puerto Rico, 442 U.S. 465 (1979)
Torres v. Puerto Rico
Argued January 10, 1979
Decided June 18, 1979
442 U.S. 465
When appellant arrived at the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, police officers, without a warrant or probable cause to suspect that appellant was carrying contraband, searched his baggage pursuant to a Puerto Rico statute authorizing the police to search the luggage of any person arriving in Puerto Rico from the United States. The search revealed marihuana, and appellant was subsequently charged with and convicted of a drug violation under Puerto Rico law. On appeal, he contended that the search violated the federal constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches; the Puerto Rico Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.
1. The constitutional requirements of the Fourth Amendment apply to Puerto Rico. Both Congress' implicit determinations that the Amendment practically and beneficially may be implemented in Puerto Rico and long experience establish that the Amendment's restrictions on searches and seizures may be applied to Puerto Rico without danger to national interests or risk of unfairness. From 1917 to 1952, Congress by statute afforded equivalent personal rights to Puerto Rico residents, and the Puerto Rico Constitution, which was adopted pursuant to Congress' authority and approved by Congress in 1952, contains the Fourth Amendment's language as well as language reflecting this Court's exegesis of the Amendment. Pp. 442 U. S. 468-471.
2. The search of appellant's baggage pursuant to statute did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment that there be probable cause to believe that incriminating evidence will be found and that there be a warrant unless exigent circumstances make compliance with this requirement impossible. P. 442 U. S. 471.
3. The requirements of a warrant and probable cause are not subject to any exception that applies generally to persons arriving in Puerto Rico from the United States. The statute in question cannot be justified by any analogy to customs searches at a functional equivalent of the international border of the United States; Puerto Rico has no sovereign authority to control entry into its territory. Nor can the statute be sustained by analogy to state inspection provisions designed to implement health and safety legislation, the statute having been construed by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court as one enacted for the purpose of
enforcing criminal laws; moreover, health and safety inspections are generally subject to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Pp. 442 U. S. 472-474.
Reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 442 U. S. 474.
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