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UNITED STATES v. HEAD

May 5, 1976

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DONALD HEAD, a/k/a "Mr. Don" et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MACMAHON

MacMAHON, District Judge.

 Defendant Head moves to suppress and exclude from introduction into evidence a package containing $26,800 in currency, taken from his possession in the office of his commanding officer, Captain Robert Roberts, USAF, in Don Muang Air Base, Thailand, and all testimony relating to its seizure and contents.

 It appears from an evidentiary hearing, held May 3, 1976, that agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) learned of facts indicating that a member of the United States Air Force, stationed at the postal facility at the American air terminal, Don Muang Air Base, Thailand, was trafficking in narcotics between Thailand and the United States through the mail.

 On March 9, 1976, Special Agent Kerr of OSI, seeking to identify the individual involved, furnished Roberts with a description of the suspect, and Roberts concluded that Head matched the description.

 Learning, on March 9 or 10, that a registered package addressed to Head had arrived at the postal facility, Roberts caused the package to be fluoroscoped, and he observed from the image on the screen that it appeared to contain stacks of currency. Two assistants also made the same observation and came to the same conclusion. Roberts then advised Kerr of what he had discovered.

 Early on the morning of March 11, 1976, Special Agent Maher of DEA learned that a complaint and arrest warrant against Head had been issued by a United States Magistrate for the Southern District of New York. On the same day, at approximately 11:00 A.M., Roberts caused a telephone call to be made to the home of Head, located in downtown Bangkok, to instruct him to come to the air base in order to complete processing for transfer back to the United States because Head's "hitch" in Thailand was soon to end.

 On the same day, at about 3:00 P.M., Head, accompanied by his infant daughter, reported to Roberts' office at the air base, where Roberts told him to complete his processing, pick up his mail, and return to the office. Head left and shortly thereafter returned to Roberts' office.

 Head was then placed under arrest by two Air Force security police, who took a blue vinyl shoulder bag from him, in the presence of Roberts, Kerr and Maher. Head's daughter then began to cry, and Head asked Maher to open the shoulder bag and take out a bottle of milk to pacify the child. As he did, Maher noticed the unopened package in the bag. Soon thereafter, Head and the unopened package were taken from the air base to the OSI office in Bangkok.

 There, Special Agent Oak of OSI, at Kerr's request, sought authorization from the commanding officer to open and search the package. Kerr was informed, at approximately 5:00 P.M., that a search of the package had been authorized by Colonel Howard F. O'Neal, Commanding Officer of the 635th Combat Support Group at Utapao Air Base. The package was then opened and the contents -- $26,800 in United States currency -- seized.

 Defendant Head moves to suppress the package, the $26,800 contained in it, and all testimony relating to its seizure on the grounds that fluoroscoping the package and/or seizing and opening it subsequent to his arrest, were illegal and in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The motion is denied.

 The Fourth Amendment applies to matter moving through the mail, *fn1" but it only proscribes searches and seizures which are "unreasonable." We find that neither the fluoroscoping of the package nor its opening after Head's arrest was an unreasonable search.

 The air terminal where the package was received and fluoroscoped was directed and managed by the Air Force under the authority of Title 39, United States Code, Section 406, which provides that the postal service may establish branch offices on defense installations (§ 406(a)) and that these branches may be manned by armed services or other personnel (§ 406(b)).

 The Air Force, implementing this authority, has issued a comprehensive manual entitled "Postal Service -- Responsibilities and Procedures (January 28, 1973)." Section 14-3 of the manual covers "examination of personal mail." Subsection (c) of § 14-3 provides:

 
"Fluoroscope and other detection equipment will be used by military postal personnel as directed by the military department which ...

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