Part I: Can you legally have an (unloaded) black powder revolver in your carry-on luggage?

Say that a hypothetical person ("Juan Morales") has a large clear plastic bag of talcum powder in his checked luggage. Within the talcum powder is several thousands of dollars' worth of delicate jewelry, which it is cushioning and protecting from moisture. Due to a set of bizarre coincidences, the bag of mysterious white powder has been:

  • In front of a (legal) machine gun during a lengthy range day
  • Liberally misted with Lanacane
  • On a dying nursing home patient's nightstand while she took nebulized morphine
  • In a friend's bathroom while he (the friend) was hotboxing marijuana in a state where it's legal
  • In the same bathroom while a recently imprisoned former friend was hotboxing crack cocaine (Mr. Morales did not participate)

As a result, it sets off every alarm possible, causing the TSA to arrest him and confiscate his stuff.

Can Mr. Morales sue them for anything? After all, he was arrested despite technically not doing anything wrong, and has lost the legally-owned jewelry that the talcum powder was keeping dry and protected.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that the reason he was going on the flight was to deliver the jewelry to a client (he's a jeweler). As a result of the delay, he lost the client's business.

Note: If any of the bizarre coincidences are illegal, ignore them. My point is that there's a false-positive for contraband that causes the TSA to wrongfully arrest him and confiscate $K of his property

DISCLAIMER: In case you didn't figure it out already from the ridiculousness of the scenario, I have absolutely no intention of ever doing this. This is purely a hypothetical "what-if" question.

  • 4
    You imply here that the TSA just keeps Mr. Morales' stuff after he's cleared of wrongdoing, why would that be the case? In what sense has he "lost" thousands of dollars worth of property? Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 13:38
  • 1
    @NuclearHoagie Civil forfeiture is a thing in the US, and has been abused many times in the past.
    – Peter M
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


he was arrested despite technically not doing anything wrong

He was arrested because there was probable cause to believe that he was involved in the commission of a felony. The arrest was legal even if he was innocent. He has no basis for a successful lawsuit.

  • And there was probable cause because Juan was an idiot by knowingly drawing attention to himself by allowing all those actions to happen to the bag.
    – Peter M
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:09
  • 1
    On a reality TV program showing what goes on on a UK Airport, they showed a woman whose luggage was searched I think, she didn't like it, and shouted "there's Semtex in my case". In front of a TV camera, but also in front of safety. Fun was had by almost everyone involved with a single exception.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:24
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    @PeterM in this case, perhaps, but it's possible for probable cause to exist because of factors entirely external to the arrestee, for example because of mistaken identity or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example...
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 19:39
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    @gnasher729 another way to get yourself lawfully arrested is to be walking down the street a couple of blocks away from where someone who looks like you just robbed a bank, especially if you're wearing similar clothes.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 19:40

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