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United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976)

United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

No. 74-1560

Argued April 26, 1976

Decided July 6, 1976*

428 U.S. 543


1. The Border Patrol's routine stopping of a vehicle at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle's occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and the stops and questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints in the absence of any individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens. Pp. 428 U. S. 556-564.

(a) To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. Such a requirement also would largely eliminate any deterrent to the conduct of well disguised smuggling operations, even though smugglers are known to use these highways regularly. Pp. 428 U. S. 556-557.

(b) While the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the consequent intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests is quite limited, the interference with legitimate traffic being minimal and checkpoint operations involving less discretionary enforcement activity than roving patrol stops. Pp. 428 U. S. 557-560.

(c) Under the circumstances of these checkpoint stops, which do not involve searches, the Government or public interest in making such stops outweighs the constitutionally protected interest of the private citizen. Pp. 428 U. S. 560-562.

(d) With respect to the checkpoint involved in No 74-1560, it is constitutional to refer motorists selectively to a secondary inspection area for limited inquiry on the basis of criteria that would not sustain a roving patrol stop, since the intrusion is sufficiently minimal that no particularized reason need exist to justify it. Pp. 428 U. S. 563-564.

2. Operation of a fixed checkpoint need not be authorized in advance by a judicial warrant. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387

Page 428 U. S. 544

U.S. 523, distinguished. The visible manifestations of the field officers' authority at a checkpoint provide assurances to motorists that the officers are acting lawfully. Moreover, the purpose of a warrant in preventing hindsight from coloring the evaluation of the reasonableness of a search or seizure is inapplicable here, since the reasonableness of checkpoint stops turns on factors such as the checkpoint's location and method of operation. These factors are not susceptible of the distortion of hindsight, and will be open to post-stop review notwithstanding the absence of a warrant. Nor is the purpose of a warrant in substituting a magistrate's judgment for that of the searching or seizing officer applicable, since the need for this is reduced when the decision to "seize" is not entirely in the hands of the field officer and deference is to be given to the administrative decisions of higher ranking officials in selecting the checkpoint locations. Pp. 428 U. S. 564-566.

No. 74-1560, 514 F.2d 308, reversed and remanded; No. 75-5387, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 428 U. S. 567.

Page 428 U. S. 545

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