Block on Trump's Asylum Ban Upheld by Supreme Court
Warrantless stops can often be close cases to affirm or deny under Fourth Amendment scrutiny, and the Fifth Circuit's decision in U.S. v. Garza was no exception.
The Garza court considered the 2012 stop and arrest of Jose Eleazar Garza, who was stopped by a Border Patrol agent on the basis of a confidential informant's (CI) tip as well as suspicious elements around his truck.
How did the court come to uphold the stop?
A warrantless stop of Garza's vehicle, a Terry stop by most accounts, occurred at a gas station in a tiny border town called Fronton, Texas, only 5 miles from the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border.
The officer had noticed Garza's truck matched a description given over dispatch. When Garza tried to leave the gas station, the officer stopped his vehicle, leading to a consented search which revealed undocumented aliens in the truck's flatbed.
Garza copped a plea to trafficking aliens for financial gain, but he reserved the right to appeal his motion to suppress the search of his vehicle that resulted from the officer's Terry stop.
Since part of the information that lead to Garza's arrest was based on a CI, you would expect that the Fifth Circuit would have been all over that issue. Instead, they ignored it entirely, claiming that under Brignoni-Ponce factors, the officer had enough information to support an inference of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
In border cases, like in all Terry cases, there must be "specific articulable facts" that form the basis for reasonable suspicion, not just a hunch.
Although the Brignoni-Ponce case mentions eight factors, the Garza court notes that in considering the totality of circumstances of a near-border stop, it need only find a couple of the factors weighing in favor of the stop, not all.
The Fifth Circuit placed considerable importance on these factors:
Taken together, without mention of the CI's tip, the Garza court established there was reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop.
Reasonable suspicion is a low bar and the government's interests in patrolling the areas around the border are weighty, so close cases like Garza's often fall on the side of the government.
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