from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Texas
DAVIS, HAYNES, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
COSTA, Circuit Judge [*]
discovering kilos of meth in the suitcase Maria Isabel
Molina-Isidoro was carrying across the border, customs agents
looked at a couple of apps on her cell phone. Molina argues
that the evidence found during this warrantless search of her
phone should be suppressed. Along with amici, she invites the
court to announce general rules concerning the application of
the government's historically broad border-search
authority to modern technology for which the Supreme Court
has recognized increased privacy interests. See Riley v.
California, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 2489-91, 2493 (2014). We
decline the invitation to do so because the nonforensic
search of Molina's cell phone at the border was supported
by probable cause. That means at a minimum the agents had a
good-faith basis for believing the search did not run afoul
of the Fourth Amendment.
attempted to enter the United States at a border crossing in
El Paso. Customs and Border Protection officers
"detected anomalies" while x-raying her suitcase.
When they questioned Molina, she acknowledged owning the
suitcase but claimed that it only contained clothing.
secondary inspection area, in response to questions about her
travels, Molina said she had delivered clothing to her
brother in Juarez, Mexico and would be flying home to
Tijuana, Mexico from El Paso. At that point, an officer
opened Molina's suitcase and noticed a modification.
After rescanning the suitcase, the officers located an
"anomaly . . . covered by electrical tape." That
anomaly was a hidden compartment, which held 4.32 kilograms
of a white crystal substance. A drug-sniffing dog alerted
officers to the presence of narcotics, and the crystal
substance field-tested positive for methamphetamine. Later
laboratory tests confirmed that result.
from the Department of Homeland Security soon arrived on the
scene. Molina could not explain how the drugs made their way
into her suitcase, though she admitted that no one could have
placed them there without her knowledge. Then Molina again
recounted her recent travels. She claimed to have taken a
taxi from El Paso to Juarez to visit her brother. But she
could not remember his address. She reiterated that she was
returning to El Paso to fly home to Tijuana. But she had not
yet purchased a ticket. When the agents confronted Molina
about why she was carrying so much personal clothing for such
a short trip, she remained silent. And when the agents told
Molina that her story made little sense, she ended the
interview and requested a lawyer.
at that point, or during the questioning, agents searched
Molina's phone, looking at Uber and
WhatsApp. They did not ask for, and Molina did not
provide, consent for that search. The agents found the
following (paraphrased) conversation on Molina's
Molina advised RAUL that she was headed to El Paso, and
requested [that] RAUL . . . send her the information for the
Uber. MOLINA advise[d] RAUL that she had arrived in El Paso.
RAUL responded that he sent her the information for the Uber.
RAUL sent a picture [o]f a credit card, front and back, and
told MOLINA to use that credit card information to pay for
[the] Uber. RAUL sent information regarding a hotel located
in Juarez, Mexico. RAUL directed MOLINA to Hotel Suites in
Colonia Playas, Room #10, and advised MOLINA that the stuff
[was] located there. MOLINA advised RAUL that she [had]
arrived [at] the room but no one was there. RAUL stated he
w[ould] get a hold of them. MOLINA then responded that the
guy [had been] asleep [but had now] opened the door. RAUL
sent another picture of a Southwest Airlines flight
itinerary. The itinerary listed MOLINA as the passenger o[n]
a flight departing El Paso at 5:15 P.M. with a final
destination of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. MOLINA advised RAUL
that she got the stuff and was headed back to El Paso.
the search, the government kept Molina's phone but did
not conduct a more intrusive forensic search of it.
jury charged Molina with one count of importing
methamphetamine and one count of possessing methamphetamine
with the intent to distribute. She moved to suppress the
evidence obtained during the cell phone search. The district
court denied the motion to suppress, concluding that
Riley v. California did not extend to the
border-search context. It also observed that the most
demanding requirement a court has required for any type of
border search is reasonable suspicion, which existed for the
search of Molina's phone.
district court then held a stipulated bench trial as Molina
wanted to preserve her right to appeal the denial of the
suppression motion. Molina was found guilty on ...