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For example if someone is caught at some major airport trying to smuggle condoms with talcum powder in his butt, or in a hidden compartment in a suitcase for example

Someone might do this with the intention to test the airport security for various reasons, but what I mean is without any permission

I know this will vary from country to country, but let's say western Europe or US for example

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    Would said person be a investigative journalist or just a private citizens? That may make difference under some jurisdictions.
    – Mołot
    Feb 20 at 23:05
  • 50
    This is the most suspiciously specific SE question I've ever seen :-P Feb 20 at 23:50
  • 18
    From the police perspective, the most likely reason you're testing the security is to see if you can smuggle actual drugs the same way later.
    – ZOMVID-21
    Feb 21 at 10:02
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    In the US, the talcum powder will test positive for some drug of the officer's choice, and you will go to jail for a long time. nytimes.com/2016/07/10/magazine/… Feb 21 at 14:25
  • 4
    @LeeC. Investigative journalists can more credibly claim to be testing airport security for a purpose other than gathering intelligence for future smuggling of illegal drugs.
    – phoog
    Feb 23 at 8:04

6 Answers 6

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It should be pointed out that smuggling doesn't just involve illegal goods but also includes legal goods that are brought in without following proper procedures such as paying required duties.

https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-charges/smuggling-and-customs-violations.html

  1. False Declarations;
  2. Exporting violations; and
  3. Importing violations.

False declarations can happen when a person returns to the U.S. or enters for the first time. They must declare the value of any goods they are bringing in from overseas. You can violate the law by misrepresenting the value of the goods, omitting them from the declaration form completely, or making false representations. Also, if you fail to disclose leaving or entering the country with $10,000 worth of currency, you can be criminally charged.

While I am not a lawyer I could see that the authorities might have an issue with someone pulling a stunt like that in order to "test" them. Even if there is no legal issue the person could be put through a lot while they run tests to confirm that nothing illegal is being brought in and there is nothing preventing them from making the process as long and painful as they can.

Something else to consider they also have rules in place for brining other legal objects on board planes if they resemble objects that are not allowed.

https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/toy-guns-and-weapons

Squirt guns, Nerf guns, toy swords, or other items that resemble realistic firearms or weapons are prohibited. We recommend emptying water guns, which must follow the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule. Replicas of explosives, such as hand grenades, are prohibited in checked and carry-on baggage. TSA officers have the discretion to prohibit any item through the screening checkpoint if they believe it poses a security threat.

It is also possible to be charged with selling fake drugs and the local authorities can bring those charges and it can become their word versus your word about what your intentions are. In this case you might not be intending to sell them but it would be impossible to argue that you are not trying to pass it off as fake drugs.

https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/legal-advice/criminal-defense/drug-charges/jail-selling-fake-drugs.htm

Question: I sold a baggie of aspirins that I said was OxyContin to a guy at a concert. After the show, I heard that there were undercover officers in the crowd. Could I be busted for selling fake drugs?

Answer: Yes. States and federal laws make the sale of fake drugs illegal, and you can even be charged with an attempted drug sale under some laws.

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    Except that you haven't misrepresented it to anyone. In the UK, at least, you need to be guilty of a crime before you can be found guilty of a crime. The fact that the police don't understand why you would eat condoms filled with talc doesn't make you guilty, it just makes you a weirdo
    – Richard
    Feb 20 at 15:57
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    I went through customs a few years ago with a rucksack and some items I'd bought for younger relatives. In it was a block of plasticine, a paperback book, a timer clock and I'd wrapped my headphones around then to stop them rattling around. Suffice to say that I made some new friends very quickly when it went through the x-ray scanner. What didn't happen next was that I wasn't charged with a crime, despite my having caused them alarm.
    – Richard
    Feb 20 at 16:05
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    Indeed. And intentionally 'testing' security would probably be dealt with in the same way that other non-crimes are dealt with. A warning that you could theoretically be charged with wasting the police's time, followed by that not happening.
    – Richard
    Feb 20 at 16:12
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    @Richard Why are you making so much fuss over me pointing out that possibility that this could end very badly for someone who attempts this? I am not saying it would end up that way all the time just that it is possible that they could treat it as something besides a prank and there could be serious legal issues for the person doing it.
    – Joe W
    Feb 20 at 17:22
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    "it would be impossible to argue that you are not trying to pass it off as fake drugs." Certainly not impossible to argue. You could say you were doing it to settle an argument on the internet about what would happen if you went through customs with a condom full of talcum powder up your bum. There's your reasonable doubt right there.
    – kaya3
    Feb 21 at 8:02
21

In this instance you can consider this your lucky day. No drugs were found on you and hence your defence is airtight, even if that can no long be said about you after your cavity search. You didn't break a law, despite the fact the police have ample proof that you intended to.

Having a hidden compartment in your luggage isn't illegal, nor is the import of talcum powder in your colon, and while I suspect there are minor charges that could theoretically be levied for wasting the time of the police or making false statements to customs, in reality these would be very unlikely to pass the CPS' test of whether it's likely that they would secure a conviction on those very narrow grounds.

On the flip-side, you may find that this incident is used against you subsequently if the police feel (after having searched your phone, etc) that there was a conspiracy to import drugs, even if no actual drugs were found. And if you were caught passing it off as heroin and trying to sell it to someone, that would be punishable under the laws that govern 'Offering to Supply a Class A Drug'.

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    @Andrei - I suspect that they'd answer "I want a solicitor" if they have any brains at all, but even saying "nothing" wouldn't be a lie in this case, because talc-filled condoms are (at least in the eyes of customs), actually nothing
    – Richard
    Feb 21 at 16:48
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    @Andrei And thus is the crux of the problem, even if they truthfully answer there is no way to verify the claims of it being talcum powder and not drugs without removing them from you and testing them. That is where the problems start as those areas are already typically overworked and they are not going to look kindly on anyone making more work for them like this.
    – Joe W
    Feb 21 at 18:53
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    @Andrei Its not more work to have to do a cavity search of a person to retrieve suspicious objects and do tests on them? Or are you asking us to believe that they will take the word of someone who has clearly hidden something on their person to make it difficult to find/verify? They are not going to be happy to be forced to do all those checks for talcum powder
    – Joe W
    Feb 21 at 20:38
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    @barbecue I am brining up things I believe are relevant and could be considered if something like this happens. If a customs checkpoint finds an object hidden in someone's body they are unlikely to take that persons word that it is a harmless non banned substance.
    – Joe W
    Feb 22 at 16:11
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    An element of the offence of "wasting police time" is making a false report (see legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/58/section/5). Simply showing up with something designed to look like a prohibited substance does not satisfy that requirement.
    – phoog
    Feb 23 at 13:29
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A right of "citizenship" is that your own border guards can't refuse you entry. The corollary is: "Anyone else, they can refuse".

If you pulled shenanigans like that, aside from the suffering while being detained as they investigate, once cleared they will refuse you entry and you must now pay for immediate airfare home at spot prices (list price). Expect a lifetime ban.

Further, that refusal would affect every future entry into countries which share data (most of North America and Europe) or that ask "have you ever been refused entry into a country". This also voids your eligibility for Visa Waiver Programs (again common among North American and European countries). Which means you must spend good money applying for a visa to countries you previously didn't need a visa for.

*The authorities would accurately view the stunt as an attempt to probe their security. They would presume this was "practice" / "a dry run" and your intent was to smuggle actual contraband in the future. As such, while in detention, expect "the third degree" in appropriate measure.

And if they choose to be unreasonable, and you or your loved ones reach out to your own country's diplomatic staff to intervene... what a fun conversation that will be!

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Even though you probably ultimately wouldn't be convicted of smuggling an illegal substance, I can imagine a number of unpleasant things happening to you. This is not an exhaustive list, but off the top of my head:

  1. You have the inconvenience and embarrassment of a cavity search.
  2. You might be arrested and jailed for smuggling, until such time as the authorities decide to actually test whatever they found on (in) you. That could be days or longer. Meanwhile, you're in jail. That may delay your vacation plans.
  3. Border agents have a lot more power and you have fewer rights than when encountering "regular" police. They could simply decide to not allow you into the country. You have very little recourse.
  4. You would likely be placed on some sort of watch-list. Every time you crossed the border, expect to have an "enhanced" search of you and your possessions.
  5. I don't know customs laws, but there is likely some provision for "interfering" with customs operations that you could be charged with.
  6. As @Richard pointed out, if they think you were part of a larger operation, you could be charged with conspiracy.
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    7) Your "drugs" are tested by someone like Annie Dookhan, and they now have proof the bag actually contains drugs.
    – Patrick M
    Feb 21 at 8:34
  • Agree with Patrick M - it is easy to plant evidence to speed convictions. Feb 21 at 9:36
  • @PatrickM Since this is a forum about law, we assume that people follow it.
    – Ron Trunk
    Feb 21 at 14:01
  • At the very least you will be detained until you pass the condom so at the extreme minimum you are looking at 2 to 3 days in a airport holding cell.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 21 at 18:39
  • @axsvl77 Assuming such a thing would leave us vulnerable of falling prey to false conclusions. It's good to know the letter of the law, but it's use in practice heeds far more valuable information.
    – Jimmy G.
    Feb 21 at 23:35
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Article 24 of Polish Criminal Code says that provocation is illegal*, if you are trying to provoke someone to commit a crime. So, if you would try to ask border guard to turn a blind eye on your talcum powder pretending to be drugs, you could indeed be arrested and end up in jail.

Assuming you didn't ask border guards or security to "commit a crime", simply had this in or on you, article 66 of Misdemeanour Code classifies false informations and appearances that caused alarm as misdemeanour punishable by arrest or up to 1500 PLN (around $375) fine, plus up to additional 1000 PLN if your actions caused an unnecessary work, like drug tests on talcum.


* Police, anti-corruption office and few other institutions are exempt from this, under very specific regulations. But that's irrelevant for the question as asked.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Feb 23 at 22:57
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Many contraband items are not illegal to posses. You cannot import meat from Brazil to the UK because the UK only allows meat imports from rabies free countries. Not because steak is illegal. You are off course free to import meat from Brazil to the US because both those countries already have rabies.

Some of the bans are really weird. Dog breeders in Australia have a real chore introducing new bloodlines to the country. It can take an animal up to a year to pass rabies quarantine. Not really unreasonable if you consider what a massive disaster it would be if Australia and New Zealand had rabies introduced there.

More specifically depending on a slew of indicators you may have your luggage searched. This may or may not lead to an x-ray. In your case the x-ray will show you have swallowed a condom. This will most certainly prove to the officer you are a drug smuggler.

You will then be detained until you pass the condom. It would be tested for drugs. This test would then come back negative. If this would to happen in Spain a country with a well established justice system you could tell them what you did and then because as you say swallowing drug free condom is not illegal you would probably be set free by a very unhappy airport officer.

If you are in a country like Brazil where the police are in some ways more like a para-military organisation then you may also tell the officer this and he may also set you free or he may decide to lock you in the holding cells for a week before reporting to anyone what happened. Who is to say? Either way probably not a good idea.

Because of the real narco wars fought in many places in the world police may not take too kindly to a stunt like this. Police generally have enough work trying to catch real criminals they don't need honest people wasting there time for no real reason.

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  • Why would rabies be such a massive disaster to New Zealand or Australia? I mean, we rabies in the U.S. and it causes virtually no problems. According to the CDC, maybe a couple people die every year from it. Then, there are about 5,000 animal rabies cases a year with 90% of those being wildlife. Would numbers in Australia or New Zealand be higher for some reason?
    – Jimmy G.
    Feb 21 at 23:46
  • Yeah, this article says Australia has had rabies in bats since 1996, and although no land animals have been found to be infected, it does say that bats can pass it on to other animals, so it is not a leap to think SOMEWHERE on the continent of Australia an infected bat bit another animal. And, there seems to be no "massive disaster" as a result.
    – Jimmy G.
    Feb 22 at 0:14
  • Because a great deal of agriculture exports in regards to meat are made possible by aus & nz rabies free status ( in land animals at least )
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 22 at 8:12

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