Law School Case Brief
United States v. Ceniceros - 204 F.3d 581 (5th Cir. 2000)
Reasonable suspicion requires more than a mere unparticularized hunch, but considerably less than proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
On Nov. 14, 1997, at the beginning of his shift, United States Border Patrol Agent Jeffrey Hampton and his partner, Agent Francisco Lopez, learned of a "be on the lookout" advisory ("BOLO") issued by the Brewster County Sheriff's Office ("BCSO"). The BOLO indicated that a "90s model" white Chevrolet Lumina driven by a single Hispanic occupant would be traveling northbound from Lajitas, Texas, on Highway 118 that afternoon. The BOLO also provided that the vehicle would be carrying narcotics. After following the Lumina for about ten miles, Hampton activated his overhead lights and pulled the vehicle over at a closed border checkpoint station south of Alpine. Because defendant Jose Efrain Ceniceros was acting suspicious, Hampton asked if he could look in the Lumina's trunk, and Ceniceros said "sure." Ceniceros activated the trunk latch from inside the vehicle, the trunk opened, and Hampton immediately smelled marijuana. Hampton found four flour sacks of marijuana collectively weighing 206 pounds in the Lumina's trunk. Ceniceros was placed under arrest and advised of his rights. He subsequently admitted to purchasing the marijuana in Mexico and smuggling it into the United States. Ceniceros was indicted for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. At trial in federal district court he moved to suppress the fruits of the roving patrol stop, arguing that the agents did not possess the reasonable suspicion required to make an investigative detention of his vehicle. After a hearing, the court denied Ceniceros' motion to suppress. Ceniceros appealed.
Was the seizure of evidence by a roving border patrol agent following a vehicle stop that was supported by reasonable suspicion consistent with the Fourth Amendment?
The appellate court held that under the totality of the circumstances, Hampton had reasonable suspicion to stop Ceniceros. The vehicle was traveling from the border, did not have a park sticker on its windshield, and was not recognized by Hampton. Most important, the vehicle, its driver, and the car's route fit the description of a BOLO Hampton received that day. When he followed the car, he observed that the car drifted within its lane and appeared heavily-laden in the trunk. All these factors provided articulable facts that indicated illegal activity might be afoot. It could not be said that reasonable suspicion was lacking. The conviction was affirmed.
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