“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Some pilot organizations including AOPA, are presently attempting to put a stop to these type of random attempts to investigate and search general aviation aircraft whenever they see fit. I have been informed that these officers, whether they be Homeland Security, DEA, Border Patrol, ICE, FBI, FAA, sheriff department, local police, (did I leave out anybody?) all have a general right to ask for your pilot documents and medical certificate and to see the aircraft registration.
However, when you address them, you should ask whose authority they represent and demand to see their badges and identifications. If possible, you should also ask for names, phone numbers of the agencies, and their immediate supervision. Many recommend that you take pictures with your camera although they may object and attempt to take your camera away. Don’t fight with them, you will lose, just try to make a good record for future use. And by the way, they will not allow you make any phone calls.
Above all keep your cool, be polite, calm, and answer their questions as best you can, when and if they ask if they can search your aircraft simply say no. They know better and should not pursue it any further. They will also ask for your voluntary permission to search and you can obviously say yes or no; under the law they can’t force you. If they have evidence of contraband on your aircraft, they will have already procured a search warrant from the appropriate authority and show it to you.
They may also ask if they can look into your aircraft from outside, and they most likely have done that already without asking you and/or search around it with the aid of dogs. Simply say that you do not consent to any kind of a search visually, or with dogs, or any other detection devices.
Keep in mind that administrative inspections, e.g., health departments, housing authorities, Federal Aviation Administration, and similar organizations also have a type of right to inspect. We can usually expect some sort of ramp inspection during our flying career by FAA people but certainly not DHS swat officers. Inspection without a warrant as an adjunct to a regulatory scheme, such as FARs, for the general welfare of the community and not as a means of enforcing the criminal law, is well established.
You should contact one or more of the pilot organizations and through your Congressman, or woman, the various aviation committees and inform them of as much of the details as you can recall. Above all, include the time and place of the incident and who was present.
With enough pressure brought to bear on this rogue organization, that is just learning its trade at your expense, maybe these random inspections will cease, and they can hone their policing skills some other way. We don’t need anymore black-suited swat teams harassing our citizens. Keep in mind that the Homeland Security team has only recently been established by the President and is a growing army of people with extensive equipment to conduct full-scale military actions.
One final important point when you’re flying East to West or West to East, across portions of our wonderful country, or North to South or South to North, close to the U.S. border, try to avoid stopping at any “international” airports. The reason being that no matter how close or far from a border, that airport is considered as a “functional equivalent of a border” and that it is assumed you crossed it. There is practically no way to prevent a search at a border.
We also have to keep in mind that not every search without a warrant is invalid under the Fourth Amendment. Actually, a moving vehicle (aircraft that can be moved quickly) can be searched and in fact seized without a warrant, if, and it’s a big if, there is probable cause for the search.
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