United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS
GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Rogelio Garcia's (Garcia) Motion
to Suppress Evidence (D.E. 16). Garcia is charged by
indictment (D.E. 6) with one count of possessing with intent
to distribute a controlled substance. He complains that the
evidence against him was obtained in violation of the Fourth
Amendment. The Government filed a response to the motion
(D.E. 18), and the Court held a hearing on April 19, 2017.
The Government has agreed not to offer, at trial, statements
made by Garcia to agents of the Drug Enforcement
Administration. After due consideration of the evidence and
the arguments of the parties, the motion to suppress (D.E.
16) is DENIED.
January 29, 2017, at about 2:35 p.m., a commercial bus
arrived at the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint. Garcia
was a passenger on the bus. Buses are referred to a secondary
inspection area so that agents can conduct an immigration
inspection on each passenger. Border Patrol Agent Christian
Gonzalez boarded the bus, introduced himself as a Border
Patrol agent, and informed the passengers that he was going
to conduct an immigration inspection. Agent Gonzalez has
worked at the Falfurrias station for four years. He started
at the front of the bus questioning passengers and worked his
way back. When he came upon Garcia, who was seated in the
center of the bus, Agent Gonzalez asked him if he was a
United States citizen and Garcia said yes. Agent Gonzalez
asked for immigration documents and Garcia provided a Texas
identification card. The Agent asked Garcia if he had a
driver's license and he said no. The Agent asked why not
and Garcia said he had not gotten one yet. Agent Gonzalez
noticed that Garcia's voice was shaky or trembling.
Agent testified that fraudulent documents are sometimes
provided so he continues with questions to verify
citizenship. He asked Garcia where he was coming from and
where he was going. Garcia said he was coming from Pharr,
Texas, and going to Houston, Texas, to visit his father.
Garcia's voice continued to be shaky. Garcia then dropped
his phone. After Agent Gonzalez asked him if he had dropped
his phone and he said yes, the Agent noticed that Garcia got
in a rigid posture and had a worried expression on his
face-his eyes were wide open. By this time, the questioning
had gone on for about two minutes.
of Garcia's nervous behavior-shaky voice, worried
expression, and rigid posture, Agent Gonzalez asked Garcia if
he would consent to a pat down and Garcia said yes. He then
asked Garcia to exit the bus and once outside, the Agent
again asked for permission to do a pat down and Garcia said
yes. The Agent patted him down and felt anomalies on his
upper thighs, which were later determined to be bundles of
Agent testified that he had not completed the immigration
inspection at the time he requested consent to do the pat
down. He determined that Garcia was a citizen after Garcia
was arrested and the Agent reviewed his criminal record.
asserts two arguments in support of his motion to suppress:
(1) the immigration inspection exceeded its permissible
scope, and (2) his consent to the search was not voluntary.
The Immigration Stop Was Not Impermissibly Prolonged
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects
“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their
persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures . . . .” U.S. Const. amend. IV;
see also United States v. Portillo-Aguirre, 311 F.3d
647, 652 (5th Cir. 2002). Checkpoint stops “are
‘seizures' within the meaning of the Fourth
Amendment.” United States v. Martinez-Fuerte,
428 U.S. 543, 556 (1976). However, the Supreme Court has
found constitutional permanent immigration checkpoints where
travelers are stopped and briefly questioned about their
immigration status without individual suspicion. Id.
at 566-67; Portillo-Aguirre, 311 F.3d at 652.
scope of an immigration checkpoint stop is limited to the . .
. purpose of the stop: determining the citizenship status of
persons passing through the checkpoint.” United
States v. Machuca-Barrera, 261 F.3d 425, 433 (5th Cir.
2001). The permissible duration of such a stop is the time
reasonably necessary to determine citizenship status which
includes the time necessary to inquire about citizenship
status, request identification or other proof of citizenship,
and request consent to extend the detention. Id.
Courts should avoid scrutinizing the particular questions
asked by a Border Patrol agent during these brief stops
“as long as in sum they generally relate to determining
citizenship status.” Id.
may not exceed its permissible duration unless the agent has
reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity and the stop
may then be lengthened to accommodate its new justification.
Id. at 434. An extended detention or search requires
consent or probable cause. Id. (citing
Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. at 567). An immigration
stop that exceeds its permissible scope violates the Fourth
Amendment even if the extension is minimal. Rodriguez v.
United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615-16 (2015).
argues that the Agent should have been satisfied that Garcia
was a United States citizen when he said so and produced an
identification card. And the additional questions by the
Agent did not relate to the document produced. Thus all
questions after Garcia produced the ...