United States v. Valdes-Vega

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 07-25-2012
  • Case #: 10-50249
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judge Murguia; Dissent by District Judge Conlon
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the totality of the circumstances, reasonable suspicion of illegal immigration or drug activity must be based on a more particularized profile than geographical proximity to a border and driving erratically.

U.S. Border Patrol discovered nearly 8 kilograms of cocaine in defendant’s truck pursuant to a stop based on his speeding, swerving, cutting other cars off, the proximity to the border, his Mexican license plate, and the new condition of his truck. Defendant was convicted for possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the stop. The Ninth Circuit made several findings in reviewing the issue de novo. First, being within 70 miles of border is of little weight. Second, speeding, weaving, and watching the road are not enough on their own to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion of trafficking. Third, although Mexican plates may normally give rise to suspicion, they are of little consequence when the car is 70 miles from the border. Lastly, pick up trucks are not specifically used to transport drugs or immigrants. Ultimately, the Court held that even though officers had reason to be suspicious of defendant’s erratic driving, under the totality of the circumstances, they did not have reasonable suspicion that defendant was doing anything other than driving unlawfully. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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