Court to Rule on Foreign Searches by U.S. Agents

From Associated Press

The Supreme Court, in a case involving a notorious Mexican drug-smuggling operation, agreed today to decide whether U.S. law enforcement agents need a warrant before searching on foreign soil someone who is not an American citizen.

The court said it will hear Bush Administration arguments that U.S. agents did not violate the Constitution when, without a warrant, they searched the home of a suspected Mexican drug smuggler.

Rene Verdugo Urquidez was convicted in California last year of taking part in the 1985 kidnaping, torture and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar.


Verdugo, identified as a top lieutenant to Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, is serving a sentence of 240 years plus life. He is not eligible for parole for 59 years, when he would be 96.

Verdugo’s conviction and sentence in the murders is not at issue in the case the Supreme Court acted on today. His appeal centered on a separate drug-smuggling conviction.

At issue is whether the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals properly suppressed evidence obtained by the DEA in its search of Verdugo’s Mexicali, Mexico, home in 1988.

Verdugo was arrested by Mexican police in 1986 and was turned over to U.S. authorities in California.

While he was awaiting trial, the DEA got permission from Mexican authorities to search the home. The agents seized a tally sheet they said shows the quantities of marijuana smuggled into the United States by Verdugo.

A federal judge in California ruled that the evidence is inadmissible.

In another case today, the court rejected a challenge to a rule that generally requires Los Angeles county court employees to speak only English while at work.

The justices instructed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case after being told that Alva Gutierrez, the woman who challenged the rule, no longer works for the county court.

The rule was adopted in 1984. It bars court employees from speaking any language other than English except when acting as translators or during breaks and lunchtime.