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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Arvizu - 534 U.S. 266, 122 S. Ct. 744 (2002)


Reviewing courts making reasonable-suspicion determinations involving investigatory stops must look at the totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing. This process allows officers to draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that might well elude an untrained person. Although an officer's reliance on a mere hunch is insufficient to justify a stop, the likelihood of criminal activity need not rise to the level required for probable cause, and it falls considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard. 


Defendant, traveling with a woman and children in a minivan, was stopped by an agent on an unpaved and rarely travelled road near the United States border which was commonly used by smugglers to avoid a border patrol checkpoint. The agent determined that the unusual behavior of the occupants justified an investigatory stop, during which the agent discovered a substantial amount of drugs. The appellate court found that certain of the suspicious circumstances, evaluated in isolation, were susceptible to innocent explanations and thus insufficient to support a finding of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the investigatory stop. 


Did the Federal border patrol agent have reasonable grounds to believe that defendant was engaged in an illegal activity?




The United States Supreme Court held, however, that suppression of the drug evidence was not required, since the totality of the circumstances warranted the stop for further investigation of defendant's vehicle, regardless of whether the facts taken in isolation appeared innocent. It was reasonable for the agent to make common sense inferences from his observations and his experience that defendant was attempting to avoid the checkpoint, rather than taking his family on a recreational outing.

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