United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

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United States v. Martinez-Fuerte
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 26, 1976
Decided July 6, 1976
Full case name United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, et al.
Citations 428 U.S. 543 (more)
The Border Patrol's routine stopping of a vehicle at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle's occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and the stops and questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints in the absence of any individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Powell, joined by Stewert, White, Blackmum, Rehnquist, Burger, Stevens
Dissent Brennan, joined by Marshall
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976) was a decision of the United States Supreme Court that allowed the United States Border Patrol to set up permanent or fixed checkpoints on public highways leading to or away from the Mexican border, and that these checkpoints are not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.[1][2]


The defendant, Martinez-Fuerte, had agreed to transport two illegal Mexican aliens who had entered the United States through the Port of San Ysidro in San Diego, California. They traveled north and were stopped at a permanent checkpoint on Interstate 5 between Oceanside and San Clemente, then questioned. The two passengers admitted their status and the defendant was charged with two counts of illegally transporting aliens. He moved to have the evidence suppressed, on the grounds that the checkpoint stop had violated the 4th Amendment. The motion was denied and he was convicted of both counts.[1]


The court ruled 7 to 2 that the internal checkpoints were not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but rather were consistent with the amendment. They went on to say that it would be impracticable for the officers to seek warrants for every vehicle searched and that to do so would eliminate any deterrent towards smuggling and illegal immigration. The court felt that any intrusion to motorists was a minimal one and that the government and public interest outweighed the constitutional rights of the individual.[1]

The court also ruled that the stops were Constitutional even if largely based on apparent Mexican ancestry.[2]

However the court added that restrictions still exist: "We have held that checkpoint searches are constitutional only if justified by consent or probable cause to search" (though the court did hold that the probable cause bar was low for permanent checkpoints with limited impact on motorists). The Court also held, "our holding today is limited to the type of stops described in this opinion. -[A]ny further detention...must be based on consent or probable cause. Our prior cases have limited significantly the reach of this congressional authorization, requiring probable cause for any vehicle search in the interior and reasonable suspicion for inquiry stops by roving patrols [as opposed to permanent checkpoints]." 428 U.S. 543, 567 (1976).


Justice William Brennan wrote in his dissent that the decision marks a radical new intrusion on citizens' rights, and that it "empties the reasonableness requirement of the Amendment". He also says:

"The scheme of the Fourth Amendment becomes meaningful only when it is assured that at some point the conduct of those charged with enforcing the laws can be subjected to the more detached, neutral scrutiny of a judge who must evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure in light of the particular circumstances. And in making that assessment it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective standard . . . . Anything less would invite intrusions upon constitutionally guaranteed rights based on nothing more substantial than inarticulate hunches, a result this Court has consistently refused to sanction."[1]

Part of Justice Brennan's complaint was that this decision was the ninth that had ruled against Fourth Amendment protections that term.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976). Justia.com. Retrieved on September 26, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c New York Times, 7 July 1976, Vol. CXXV, no. 43,264