Post details: Airport screening searches no longer considered a matter of implied consent; they are regulatory searches, and they are not without limits

08/11/07

Permalink 09:10:14 am, by fourth, 820 words, 16486 views   English (US)
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Airport screening searches no longer considered a matter of implied consent; they are regulatory searches, and they are not without limits

Defendant went into the security line at the Honolulu airport, but it was noted on his boarding pass that he presented "No ID" to get through security. He was accordingly selected for secondary screening, although he was protesting that his flight was about to leave, which it was. A handheld wand went off on a front pants pocket three times, and he protested that he had nothing in his pocket. The TSA officer used the back of his hand to feel what might be setting off the alarm on the wand, and something was in there but he could not tell what it was. Defendant at that point asked to leave the airport because he changed his mind about flying. The TSA officer told him to empty his pockets, and a meth pipe was found in the front pocket. A further search of his person revealed meth. The Ninth Circuit held that airport searches no longer are dependent upon implied consent; they are now administrative searches because flying on an airplane in a post-9/11 world is now the same as a "highly regulated industry." Any "implied consent," thus, cannot be revoked once the passenger elects to enter the secure area. Such searches, however, are not limitless; they are limited by their justification: screening for terrorists. This search was reasonable under the circumstances. United States v. Aukai, 497 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc):

We have held that airport screening searches, like the one at issue here, are constitutionally reasonable administrative searches because they are "conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme in furtherance of an administrative purpose, namely, to prevent the carrying of weapons or explosives aboard aircraft, and thereby to prevent hijackings." United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908 (9th Cir. 1973); see also United States v. Hartwell, 436 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 127 S. Ct. 111 (2006); Marquez, 410 F.3d at 616. Our case law, however, has erroneously suggested that the reasonableness of airport screening searches is dependent upon consent, either ongoing consent or irrevocable implied consent.

The constitutionality of an airport screening search, however, does not depend on consent, see Biswell, 406 U.S. at 315, and requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world. Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by "electing not to fly" on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found. This rule would also allow terrorists a low-cost method of detecting systematic vulnerabilities in airport security, knowledge that could be extremely valuable in planning future attacks. Likewise, given that consent is not required, it makes little sense to predicate the reasonableness of an administrative airport screening search on an irrevocable implied consent theory. Rather, where an airport screening search is otherwise reasonable and conducted pursuant to statutory authority, 49 U.S.C. § 44901, all that is required is the passenger's election to attempt entry into the secured area of an airport. See Biswell, 406 U.S. at 315; 49 C.F.R. § 1540.107. Under current TSA regulations and procedures, that election occurs when a prospective passenger walks through the magnetometer or places items on the conveyor belt of the x-ray machine. The record establishes that Aukai elected to attempt entry into the posted secured area of Honolulu International Airport when he walked through the magnetometer, thereby subjecting himself to the airport screening process.

To the extent our cases have predicated the reasonableness of an airport screening search upon either ongoing consent or irrevocable implied consent, they are overruled.

IV.

Although the constitutionality of airport screening searches is not dependent on consent, the scope of such searches is not limitless. A particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it "is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives [] [and] that it is confined in good faith to that purpose." Davis, 482 F.2d at 913. We conclude that the airport screening search of Aukai satisfied these requirements.

The search procedures used in this case were neither more extensive nor more intensive than necessary under the circumstances to rule out the presence of weapons or explosives. After passing through a magnetometer, Aukai was directed to secondary screening because his boarding pass was marked "No ID." Aukai then underwent a standard "wanding procedure." When the wand alarm sounded as the wand passed over Aukai's front right pants pocket, TSA Officer Misajon did not reach into Aukai's pocket or feel the outside of Aukai's pocket. Rather, Misajon asked Aukai if he had something in his pocket. When Aukai denied that there was anything in his pocket, Misajon repeated the wanding procedure. Only after the wand alarm again sounded and Aukai again denied having anything in his pocket did Misajon employ a more intrusive search procedure by feeling the outside of Aukai's pocket and determining that there was something in there.

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