Aviation Security First Case: United States v Term Paper

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Aviation Security

First Case: United States v. Wade

Subsequent to September 11, 2001, the United States has greatly increased its security strategies when passengers are preparing to board airliners. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for aviation security and hence all airports in the U.S. fall under federal jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, at issue in this case is whether James Edward Ware was lawfully found in possession of a dangerous weapon and whether the search conducted on Ware's person was legal. In that context, was Ware's arrest conducted properly and was the arrest justified based on the facts of the situation and applicable law? Ware was preparing to board a commercial airliner when a small handgun (a .25 caliber automatic pistol) fell out of his pocket and a fellow passenger who witnessed that incident reported it to authorities. He was then "patted down" by a TSA officer (called a TSO) and the weapon was quickly found in his pocket. Wade was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. The weapon was not loaded and Ware did not have any ammunition, but he was arrested anyway.

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Relevant law: The Transportation Security Administration has regulations on firearms and ammunition: a) all firearms carried aboard a commercial airliner must be declared at the ticket counter during check-in; b) firearms must be unloaded; c) the weapon must be in a "hard-sided container"; the container must be locked and the passenger must provide the security personnel with a key to unlock and check the weapon; d) those who violate these regulations can expect to be criminally prosecuted and will face civil penalties up to $10,000; e) the TSA notes that airlines have their own regulations and passengers need to find out what those regulations are above and beyond the TSA guidelines.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Aviation Security First Case: United States v. Assignment

The other relevant law in this case is U.S. Code Title 18, 930, "Possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in Federal facilities" (Cornell University Law School). Since the federal government is responsible for security at airports, and the federal agency TSA conducts the security procedures, these facilities are indeed "Federal facilities." U.S. Code Title 18, 930 reads: a) "Except as provided in subsection (d), whoever knowingly possess or causes to be present a firearm or other dangers weapon in a Federal facility (other than a Federal court facility) or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both" (Cornell Law School). The U.S. Code Title 18, 930, section (g) (1) states that "Federal facility" is a building "or part thereof owned or leased by the Federal Government, where Federal employees are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties" (Cornell Law School). Section (g) (2) of U.S. Code Title 18, 930 identifies "dangerous weapon" as a device that is "readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury…"

Application of the rule of law to the facts: The arrest was made after a search disclosed that Ware had a dangerous weapon. Ware contended that he had no ammunition in the weapon or on his person and therefore he should not have been arrested. He asked that the search be declared illegal and unlawful and that the weapon was not technically a "dangerous weapon." But the TSA has the legal authority to "pat down" passengers if they deem it is necessary to protect the safety of the passengers and the flight. "A pat-down inspection complements the hand-wand inspection. In order to ensure security, this inspection may include sensitive areas of the body" (TSA). Moreover, Federal law makes it a crime to carry a concealed weapon on board a commercial airliner, and so the law was enforced properly and legally.

Conclusion: The defendant was found guilty of violating the Transportation Security Administration federal regulations (failing to report that he had a weapon on his person; attempting to carry a concealed weapon on board); and he was found guilty of violating U.S. Code Title 18, 930 (being in possession of a dangerous weapon on federal premises). His motion to suppress the evidence was overruled. The Court looked at the entire context of the circumstances and ruled that an airliner can be hijacked with an unloaded weapon.

Second Case: United States v. $557,933.89

Issue: At issue is under what circumstances may the contents of a briefcase be seized by security personnel resulting from a routine, authorized search at an airport -- and subsequently be subjected to civil forfeiture? On June 8, 1994, Ramon Mercado was on his way to the American Airlines terminal at La Guardia Airport for his flight when security officials asked him if they could open the briefcase he was carrying. He agreed and while no weapons were found a large number of money orders was discovered. The Port Authority Police (PAP) investigated and after Mercado was interviewed by PAP for about twenty minutes, the authorities gave Mercado a receipt for the briefcase and he went on his way to Miami. The next day the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sent a representative -- with a drug-sniffing dog named Brent -- to look at the briefcase. The dog, Brent, detected some kind of narcotics residue in the briefcase. With the dog's response as evidence, the U.S. instituted forfeiture proceedings. The grounds for forfeiture were alleged narcotics trafficking and money-laundering.

Mercado asserted through his lawyer that yes, the security team had the authority to search his briefcase but once no weapons were found they should have let him go on the plane with the briefcase. The Court disagreed with that assertion and involved the 4th Amendment's "plain view" doctrine and based on probably cause allowed that the forfeiture was legal.

Relevant / Applicable law: In this case the airport security personnel had the authority to ask Mercado to look into his briefcase. The TSA "Passenger Security Checkpoints" section states that "If your bag is selected for additional screening, it may be opened and examined on a table in your presence." Meanwhile, as to the 4th Amendment, the "plain view" doctrine is an exception to the need for a warrant. "…if a government agent takes possession of property not included with the warrant but that was in the plain view of the government agent, then the property may be taken" (Cornell Law). Moreover, through the "plain view" doctrine "The law permits officers to make warrantless searches and seizures if they find that exigent circumstances exist and that they have probable cause" (Cornell Law). The formal forfeiture proceedings were legally conducted pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(d) (2000) and 19 U.S.C. § 1607(a)(4) (2000).

Application of the law: The government asserted that the money orders violated 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a) (avoiding currency transaction reporting rules) hence they could legally be forfeited under 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(a) (2000). Also the government had probable cause to believe the money orders were proceeds from drug trafficking so they invoked 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6) (1994) (amended 2000), and in believing that money laundering was involved they invoked 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(i) and 1957(a) (2000). On July 11, 1994, the DEA's administrative forfeiture proceedings were based on 21 U.S.C. § 881(d) (2000) and on 19 U.S.C. § 1607(a)(4) (2000) -- and the notice was sent to Mercado (as well as having the notice published). In July 1991, Mercado pled guilty to "one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and he was sentenced to 188 months in federal prison (FindLaw).

Conclusion: The defendant had his briefcase searched under applicable federal authority at the airport and the stack of money orders immediately attracted attention and suspicion on the part of the security officers. The search of the briefcase -- after no weapons were discovered -- was legal under the "plain view" doctrine of the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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