A gate inspection is "reasonable and lawful" so long as it is "not a subterfuge for a search for
criminal evidence." U.S. v. Flowers, 23 MJ 647 (NMCMR, 1986). Courts uphold such inspections as
being valid when they are "based upon the commanding officer's authority and responsibility for the
security of his command." By virtue of the installation commander's position, he has "unique
responsibilities in connection with the health, safety, welfare, morale, and efficiency of those placed
under his command." U S. v. Vargas, 13 MJ 713 (NMCMR, 1982). In U.S. v. Johnson, 6 MJ 681
(NMCMR, 1978), the court held it was "eminently reasonable" to use a gate inspection "to deter
incoming contraband." Such was equally true for its use "to deter outgoing contraband and stolen
government property." In Johnson, the inspection was conducted one mile from the main gate. The
court said this was reasonable, since there "is no location closer to the gate where a search point could
be located without severely interfering with both inbound and outbound traffic." The location chosen
was "the only practical location that could be selected."
In U.S. v. Harper, 8 MJ 708 (ACMR, 1979), an individual was coming through the gate when he
was informed that a "contraband check" was being conducted, and he was directed to a nearby guard
shack. As the soldier walked toward the building, he dropped a packet on the ground, which was later
found to contain heroin. The court held such an inspection to be reasonable and sufficiently
nonintrusive to pass constitutional muster." A gate inspection, then, is reasonable and does not require
probable cause. The court further held that the individual's "act in discarding heroin was voluntary and
not the result of illegal police activity. When the appellant dropped the packet, the unit police were in
the process of conducting a legitimate gate search." The soldier's action "in discarding the heroin was
unrelated to any improper police activity" and constituted an abandonment of the property.
In Harper, the court explained that gate inspections within the United States are governed by more
stringent requirements. Entry to a military installation overseas is equated with an overseas border
search. U.S. v. Rivera, 4 MJ 215 (CMA, 1978). In Rivera, the court noted that such "border searches"
are upheld "pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and
examining persons and property crossing into the country." The court explained that travelers "may be
stopped in crossing an international border because of national self-protection reasonably requiring one
entering the country to identify himself as entitled to come in, and his belongings as effects which may
be lawfully brought in." The factual similarities between an international border and the entrance onto a
military installation overseas results in their similar treatment.