Therefore, while appearing to be Mexican may be a relevant factor in forming reasonable suspicion, it cannot be the only factor.
The Fourth Amendment does not allow a roving law-enforcement patrol to stop a vehicle near the border and question its occupants based solely on the observation that the occupants appear to be of Mexican descent.
Brignoni-Ponce (defendant) was the driver of a vehicle in the northbound lanes of Interstate Highway 5 in southern California near the Mexican border. He was stopped by Border Patrol officers who were conducting a roving patrol of the area. The officers questioned Brignoni-Ponce and his two passengers, all of whom admitted that they were noncitizens who had entered the country illegally. The officers later stated that their only reason for stopping the car was that the vehicle’s occupants appeared to be of Mexican descent. Brignoni-Ponce was charged with knowingly transporting illegal immigrants.
At trial, he moved to suppress the testimony of his two passengers, arguing that their statements were the fruit of an illegal seizure. The trial court denied the motion, the testimony was admitted, and Brignoni-Ponce was convicted. The court of appeal held that the motion to suppress should have been granted because the officers were not justified in making the stop based solely on the fact that the vehicle’s occupants appeared to be Mexican. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
The Fourth Amendment requires that all seizures of the person, even those only involving brief detention, be reasonable.
. In determining whether a seizure is reasonable, the court balances the public interest against the individual’s right to freedom from arbitrary interference by police.
When police are on roving patrols in places other than the border, they cannot stop a vehicle without reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains illegal immigrants.
In this case, however, the officers relied only on their observation that the vehicle’s occupants appeared to be of Mexican descent. The United States has many citizens and legal residents who appear to be of Mexican ancestry.
. Even near the Mexican border, most people who appear to be of Mexican ancestry are in the country legally.
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