Law School Case Brief
United States v. Flores-Montano - 541 U.S. 149, 124 S. Ct. 1582 (2004)
Complex balancing tests to determine what is a "routine" search of a vehicle, as opposed to a more "intrusive" search of a person, have no place in border searches of vehicles.
Customs officials seized 37 kilograms of marijuana from defendant's gas tank at the international border. Defendant was indicted of unlawfully importing marijuana and of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Defendant moved to suppress the marijuana. The district court granted the motion, which the appellate court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to petitioner United States.
Does the fuel tank search violate defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights?
The Court held that the Fourth Amendment forbade the fuel tank search absent reasonable suspicion. However, the Court found that complex balancing tests to determine what was a "routine" search of a vehicle, as opposed to a more "intrusive" search of a person, had no place in border searches of vehicles. Searches made at the border were reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occurred at the border. The United States' authority to conduct suspicion less inspections at the border included the authority to remove, disassemble, and reassemble a vehicle's fuel tank.
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