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United States v. Jacobsen


While examining a damaged package, two delivery company employees opened it to check the contents. They observed a white, powdery substance. The substance had been wrapped eight times before being placed in the package. The employees repacked the contents of the package and notified the DEA of their discovery. A DEA agent went to the company office, removed some of the contents and conducted a field test that identified the substance as cocaine.


Whether the Fourth Amendment required the DEA agent to obtain a search warrant before removing part of the powder and conducting a field test on it?


No. The defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the package had been destroyed by the actions of the private delivery employees.


A “search” under the Fourth Amendment occurs when the government intrudes on an area where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, or trespasses on a person, house, paper or effect for the purpose of gathering information. The Constitution and its amendments do not apply to the activities of private individuals not acting as agents of the government. Here, the initial invasion by the two employees was not subject to the Fourth Amendment. And, once an individual’s original expectation of privacy is destroyed, the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit governmental use of the now non-private information. The additional intrusion of the field test was also determined to be reasonable.


466 U.S. 109, 104 S. Ct. 1652 (1984)

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