United States v. Lopez

328 F. Supp. 1077 (1971)

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United States v. Lopez

United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
328 F. Supp. 1077 (1971)

  • Written by Tammy Boggs, JD

Facts

In 1968, in response to an increasing number of airplane hijackings, a federal task force devised an antihijacking program. The program was based on detailed, extensive studies of all known hijackers and of air travelers generally. The studies showed that hijackers shared certain characteristics markedly distinguishing them from the general traveling public. The risk of hijacking was greatly increased if an individual was allowed to bring a weapon on board an aircraft. The premise of the antihijacking program was to select passengers who met the hijacker “profile” and triggered a metal detector for additional screening. The standard profile was composed of neutral, observable characteristics that required no judgment, e.g., no consideration of a person’s religion, race, or class. If a selected individual could not provide adequate identification, the person would be detained and interviewed by U.S. marshals, who could also conduct a pat-down for weapons. The program was highly effective at reducing instances of hijacking while being of minimal burden to most air travelers. In 1970, Frank Lopez (defendant) and his companion were stopped before they could board a Pan American flight from New York to Puerto Rico. A Pan American employee believed that Lopez fit the hijacker profile. However, the airline had a policy of considering two additional characteristics from the standard profile that included a person’s ethnicity. Lopez triggered the metal detector, did not have adequate identification, and was patted down. U.S. marshals discovered heroin wrapped in a piece of tinfoil on his person. Lopez was arrested and charged with transporting narcotics. Before trial, Lopez moved to suppress evidence of the heroin, arguing that the use of a hijacker profile on him was unconstitutional.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Weinstein, J.)

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