Two men were recently arrested by federal agents for allegedly transporting 200 pounds of marijuana in a twin-engine Cessna aircraft to the Oakland County Airport in Pontiac, Michigan. The men were caught apparently because they had made several prior trips between the two cities.
Based on that alone, and the fact that marijuana growing operations are known to exist in the part of California where the men’s trip originated, Homeland Security and Customs agents in Detroit became suspicious and searched the plane, where they found the marijuana. Now the two men face several years in prison for drug delivery.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guards against unreasonable searches by state and federal agencies. The Fourth Amendment is interpreted as a protection against an unreasonable search of private property by law enforcement without a warrant that is grounded in probable cause. Probable cause requires the officer have a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime.
Evidence that is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is deemed inadmissible in court, including in a criminal prosecution. This ensures that law enforcement is held accountable for overstepping its intended power.
Whether this evidence will be excluded is an open question. The plane originated from Lincoln, California, which has become a hotbed for marijuana growing. The pair, who are residents of New York, had made multiple trips between California and Michigan, and personnel at smaller airports have been on the lookout recently for potentially suspicious activity regarding drug smuggling. Someone noticed the plane’s history of trips and alerted Customs and Homeland Security officials, who searched the plane after it arrived.
Source: clickondetroit.com, “Large marijuana operation foiled at Michigan airport,” Feb. 22, 2012