Hernandez v. Mesa

PETITIONER:Jesus C. Hernandez, et al.
RESPONDENT:Jesus Mesa, Jr.
LOCATION: Near the U.S.-Mexico border in Juarez, Mexico

DOCKET NO.: 15-118
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

GRANTED: Oct 11, 2016

Facts of the case

On June 7, 2010, Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a fifteen-year old Mexican national, was playing with friends on the cement culvert of the Rio Grande that separates El Paso, Texas from Juarez, Mexico. Hernandez and his friends took turns running up the incline of the culvert to touch the barbed-wire fence on the U.S. side of it and then running back down the incline to the Mexican side. Jesus Mesa, Jr., a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, arrived on the scene and detained one of Hernandez’s friends at the U.S. border, while Hernandez retreated to the the Mexican side of the River and hid behind the pillars of the Paso del Norte bridge. Mesa, still standing on the U.S. side of the border, fired at least two shots at Hernandez, one of which struck him in the head and killed him.


Six months after Hernandez’s death, his parents sued Mesa in federal district court in Texas and alleged that Mesa violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution through the use of deadly force and the failure to use of reasonable force when making arrests. Mesa moved to dismiss and argued that Hernandez lacked constitutional protection because he was an alien without voluntary attachments to the United States who was standing in Mexico when he was killed. Applying a formalist test, the district court concluded that the Constitution’s deadly-force protections stop at the border for non-citizens like Hernandez. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part and held that the Fifth Amendment protections against deadly force applied but not the Fourth Amendment protections. The appellate court also held that Mesa was not entitled to qualified immunity. Rehearing the case en banc, the appellate declined to answer the Fifth Amendment question, but held that Mesa was entitled to qualified immunity and that Hernandez could not assert a claim under the Fourth Amendment because he was a Mexican citizen without a significant voluntary connection to the United States who was on Mexican soil when he was shot and killed.



  1. Does a formalist or functionalist analysis govern the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unjustified deadly force, as applied to a cross-border shooting of an unarmed Mexican citizen in an enclosed area controlled by the United States?

  2. May qualified immunity be granted or denied based on facts – such as the victim’s legal status – unknown to the officer at the time of the incident?

  3. Can the claim in this case be properly asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, which governs when federal agents may be liable for damages for violating an individual’s constitutional right?