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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Jefferson - 650 F.2d 854 (6th Cir. 1981)


When an individual is threatened with being detained, although the detainer has no right to hold him, his consent cannot be considered voluntary. If it is obtained under duress, any alleged consent does not vitiate the illegality of the arrest.


Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents received a tip, from a reliable informant, that a African American male flew to Los Angeles that day and a courier would return the next day with heroin. No information was given about the courier's height, weight, size, skin color, or clothing. One agent saw defendant Jefferson, whom he thought he had seen the day before on a flight to Los Angeles. The agent thought defendant walked faster than normal, but there were no other signs of unusual nervousness. Defendant did not immediately pick up his luggage, but instead made a phone call and waited until a specific woman arrived. The agent identified himself to defendant and the woman, advised defendant of his right to refuse to permit a search, but said he would detain defendant while he got a search warrant if necessary. Defendant consented, and the agent found the heroin concealed in the pocket of a pair of trousers in defendant’s suitcase. He was thereafter charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin and bond jumping. Before his trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress the heroin seized by the agent. The district court concluded that the agent had probable cause to stop defendant and denied the motion. Subsequently, defendant was convicted.


Was there probable cause to stop the defendant, and searched his belongings, notwithstanding that the search was done with his consent?




The Court held that there was no justification of the alleged reasonable investigative stop, and that the DEA agents had no probable cause to stop defendant in the airport; hence, the Court averred that the heroin ultimately seized from the defendant should not have been introduced into evidence. Moreover, the Court held that the defendant’s alleged consent was not voluntary because under the circumstances, defendant did not feel he was free to leave after the agent stopped him and did more than ask a few questions.

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