Getting on a plane, train or a ship? Why you can’t rely on your constitutional right against illegal search and seizure in a commercial transportation setting
Our criminal defense law firm frequently represents and defends individuals charged with a variety of crimes involving the illegal possession, narcotics, guns and firearms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Many of these cases begin with a search of a person’s vehicle, property, or in some cases, luggage.
With that said, many of our clients and their families travel during the summer months throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, along with other parts of the United States. This travel often involves commercial vehicles such as airplanes, trains, ships and buses.
Everyone has the legal right against illegal search and seizure, but commercial settings, like an airports and train stations, are different. Commercial passengers are subject to heightened security measures than the average law-abiding citizen. While the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, there are a number of exceptions to this constitutional right.
Administrative Searches & The Expectation of Privacy
To start, in order to have a “search” under the meaning of the 4th Amendment, a person must have “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The expectation of privacy, however, differs depending on the situation. For example, students, in a public school, have less expectation of privacy then a young person walking down the street in a place like Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton or Media, Pennsylvania; all areas that our law firm represents clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Commercial passengers also have less of an expectation of privacy.
Passengers must surrender certain constitutional rights to exercise the right to ride on an airplane or any commercial means of transportation. For security purposes, the U.S. government has a “compelling interest” to perform administrative searches of individuals that may otherwise be unconstitutional in other settings, such as a person’s home, place of business or in their personal vehicle.
With that said, the government is able to perform administrative searches of law-abiding citizens and other passengers which would otherwise be deemed unconstitutional any place else in the country. Under federal law, all passengers must submit to a search of their belongings and their person. In addition, all commercial passengers are subject to “for cause searches”.
“For Cause” Searches
For cause searches are based on objective and subjective criteria and government employees may perform these searches for a variety of reasons, which include:
- Setting off metal detectors
- Full body scanners
- An attempt to bring in prohibited items
- “Suspicious” behavior
The federal and state law allows government agents wide latitude and the ability to exercise discretion. This allows them to perform “random” searches of passengers which often raises concerns of racial profiling and other discriminatory behavior. Obviously, even if items are found on your luggage or within luggage associated with the party you are traveling with, you have other arguments that your criminal defense lawyer can make at trial with regards to actual and constructive possession of the items in question.,
Actual vs. Constructive Possession
Actual and constructive possession are the most common arguments made for possessory crimes. Actual possession is when the item is found on the persons actual person (in their pocket) and constructive possession is when the item is found within the persons area of the immediate control (luggage).
The bottom line is that when you travel commercially you give up certain constitutional rights and there is little, if any, constitutional arguments against illegal search and seizure if you are found with items which are considered a contraband, like illegal drugs, narcotics, firearms, or other items. If you’ re traveling this summer, please keep in mind that you have a relaxed constitutional right on any type of commercial means of transportation. Also, keep in mind that the laws vary between state to state, even if you aren’t traveling commercial. Our law firm has put a lot of information out regarding the difference between Pennsylvania and New Jersey with regards to illegal guns, firearms and even drugs, like marijuana. The illegal possession of some of these items is often a felony offense, which can drastically change your professional and personal opportunities.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.