413 U.S. 266 (1973), 71-6278, Almeida-Sanchez v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 71-6278
Citation:413 U.S. 266, 93 S.Ct. 2535, 37 L.Ed.2d 596
Party Name:Almeida-Sanchez v. United States
Case Date:June 21, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 266

413 U.S. 266 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2535, 37 L.Ed.2d 596



United States

No. 71-6278

United States Supreme Court

June 21, 1973

Argued March 19 and 28, 1973




Petitioner, a Mexican citizen and holder of a valid work permit, challenges the constitutionality of the Border Patrol's warrantless search of his automobile 25 air miles north of the Mexican border. The search, made without probable cause or consent, uncovered marihuana, which was used to convict petitioner of a federal crime. The Government seeks to justify the search on the basis of § 287(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides for warrantless searches of automobiles and other conveyances "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States," as authorized by regulations to be promulgated by the Attorney General. The Attorney General's regulation defines "reasonable distance" as "within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States." The Court of Appeals upheld the search on the basis of the Act and regulation.

Held: The warrantless search of petitioner's automobile, made without probable cause or consent, violated the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 269-275.

(a) The search cannot be justified on the basis of any special rules applicable to automobile searches, as probable cause was lacking; nor can it be justified by analogy with administrative inspections, as the officers had no warrant or reason to believe that petitioner had crossed the border or committed an offense, and there was no consent by petitioner. Pp. 269-272.

(b) The search was not a border search or the functional equivalent thereof. Pp. 272-275.

452 F.2d 459, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 275. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 285.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner in this case, a Mexican citizen holding a valid United States work permit, was convicted of having knowingly received, concealed, and facilitated the transportation of a large quantity of illegally imported marihuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 176a (1964 ed.). His sole contention on appeal was that the search of his automobile that uncovered the marihuana was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment and that, under the rule of Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, the marihuana should not have been admitted as evidence against him.

The basic facts in the case are neither complicated nor disputed. The petitioner was stopped by the United States Border Patrol on State Highway 78 in [93 S.Ct. 2537] California, and his car was thoroughly searched. The road is essentially an east-west highway that runs for part of its course through an undeveloped region. At about the point where the petitioner was stopped, the road meanders north as well as east -- but nowhere does the road reach the Mexican border, and at all points it lies north of U.S. 80, a major east-west highway entirely within the

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United States that connects the Southwest with the west coast. The petitioner was some 26 air miles north of the border when he was stopped. It is undenied that the Border Patrol had no search warrant, and that there was no probable cause of any kind for the stop or the subsequent search -- not even the "reasonable suspicion" found sufficient for a street detention and weapons search in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, and Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143.

The Border Patrol conducts three types of surveillance along inland roadways, all in the asserted interest of detecting the illegal importation of aliens. Permanent checkpoints are maintained at certain nodal intersections; temporary checkpoints are established from time to time at various places; and finally, there are roving patrols such as the one that stopped and searched the petitioner's car. In all of these operations, it is argued, the agents are acting within the Constitution when they stop and search automobiles without a warrant, without probable cause to believe the cars contain aliens, and even without probable cause to believe the cars have made a border crossing. The only asserted justification for this extravagant license to search is § 287(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 66 Stat. 233, 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3), which simply provides for warrantless searches of automobiles and other conveyances "within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States," as authorized by regulations to be promulgated by the Attorney General. The Attorney General's regulation, 8 CFR § 287.1, defines "reasonable distance" as "within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States."

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recognized that the search of petitioner's automobile was not a "border search," but upheld its validity on the basis of

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the above-mentioned portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the accompanying regulation. 452 F.2d 459, 461. We granted certiorari, 406 U.S. 944, to consider the constitutionality of the search.


No claim is made, nor could one be, that the search of the petitioner's car was constitutional under any previous decision of this Court involving the search of an automobile. It is settled, of course, that a stop and search of a moving automobile can be made without a warrant. That narrow exception to the warrant requirement was first established in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132. The Court in Carroll approved a portion of the Volstead Act providing for warrantless searches of automobiles when there was probable cause to believe they contained illegal alcoholic beverages. The Court recognized that a moving automobile on the open road presents a situation

where it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.

Id. at 153. Carroll has been followed in a line of subsequent cases,1 but the Carroll doctrine does not declare a field day for the police in searching automobiles. Automobile or no automobile, there must [93 S.Ct. 2538] be probable cause for the search.2 As MR. JUSTICE WHITE wrote for the Court in Chambers v. Marey, 399

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U.S. 42, 51:

In enforcing the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Court has insisted upon probable cause as a minimum requirement for a reasonable search permitted by the Constitution.

In seeking a rationale for the validity of the search in this case, the Government thus understandably sidesteps the automobile search cases. Instead, the Government relies heavily on cases dealing with administrative inspections. But these case fail to support the constitutionality of this search.

In Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, the Court held that administrative inspections to enforce community health and welfare regulations could be made on less than probable cause to believe that particular dwellings were the sites of particular violations. Id. at 534-536, 538. Yet the Court insisted that the inspector obtain either consent or a warrant supported by particular physical and demographic characteristics of the areas to be searched. Ibid. See also See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541. The search in the present case was conducted in the unfettered discretion of the members of the Border Patrol, who did not have a warrant,3 probable cause, or consent. The search thus embodied precisely the evil the Court saw in Camara when it insisted that the "discretion of the official in the field" be circumscribed by obtaining a warrant prior to the inspection. Camara, supra, at 532-533.

Two other administrative inspection cases relied upon by the Government are equally inapposite. Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72, and United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311, both approved

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warrantless inspections of commercial enterprises engaged in businesses closely regulated and licensed by the Government. In Colonnade, the Court stressed the long history of federal regulation and taxation of the manufacture and sale of liquor, 397 U.S. at 76-77. In Biswell, the Court noted the pervasive system of regulation and reporting imposed on licensed gun dealers, 406 U.S. at 312 n. 1, 315-316.

A central difference between those cases and this one is that businessmen engaged in such federally licensed and regulated enterprises accept the burdens as well as the benefits of their trade, whereas the petitioner here was not engaged in any regulated or licensed business. The businessman in a regulated industry in effect consents to the restrictions placed upon him. As the Court stated in Biswell:

It is also plain that inspections for compliance with the Gun Control Act pose only limited threats to the dealer's justifiable expectations of privacy. When a dealer chooses to engage in this pervasively regulated business and to accept a federal license, he does so with the knowledge that his business records, firearms, and ammunition will be subject to effective inspection. Each licensee is annually furnished with a revised compilation of ordinances that describe his obligations and define the inspector's authority. [93 S.Ct. 2539] . . . The dealer is not left to wonder about the purposes of the inspector or the limits of his task.

Id. at 316.

Moreover, in Colonnade and Biswell, the searching officers knew with certainty that the premises searched were in fact, utilized for the sale of liquor or guns. In the present case, by contrast, there was no such assurance that the individual searched was within the proper scope...

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