CASE FACTS The defendant Andrew Sokolow fit the profile of a drug smuggler. While traveling from Honolulu to Miami, he paid $2,100 in cash for his airline tickets.
He gave the ticket agent his mother’s last name, the phone number of his roommate, did not check any luggage, spent 20 hours traveling, and only stayed in Miami for 48 hours. He was young, dressed in a black jumpsuit wearing a lot of gold jewelry, and visibly nervous. When he returned to Honolulu Drug Enforcement Agents stopped him in front of the airport. A drug dog hit on one of his bags, and agents got a search warrant for the bag. The bag contained suspicious documents, but there were no drugs. They brought the drug dog out again, and he hit on another bag. The DEA then got a search warrant for the second bag and found over 1,000 grams of cocaine.
Sokolow was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Sokolow moved to suppress evidence found in the bags stating they had no reason to detain him. The United States District Court found there was reasonable cause and denied the motion. Later the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction stating the DEA did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Sokolow. The case went to the US Supreme court and their ruling was that the defendant’s actions by itself could have been innocent, but with all the circumstances, and Sokolow’s actions, the DEA had reasonable suspicion.
SIGNIFICANCE The Court’s willingness to define prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment, regarding unreasonable search and seizure, is interpreted in a way not to hurt the cases of law enforcement officials, especially those cases pertaining to stopping the illegal drug trade. By upholding the government’s case, the Court ruled it admissible to detain suspects who fit a police profile for illegal activity. Before the Sokolow case authorities had to show evidence of ongoing criminal activity when profiling of a suspect. It allowed authorities to detain an individual if they have reasonable suspicion supported by facts of criminal activity, even if they have no probable cause under the Fourth Amendment.