United States v. Brignoni-Ponce

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Felix Humberto Brignoni-Ponce
LOCATION: Interstate Highway 5, approximately 4 miles south of San Clemente

DOCKET NO.: 74-114
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 422 US 873 (1975)
ARGUED: Feb 18, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1975

ADVOCATES:
Mr. Andrew L. Frey - for petitioner
John J. Cleary - for respondent

Facts of the case

On March 11, 1973, border patrol agents stopped Felix Humberto Brignoni-Ponce’s car based on the fact that the occupant’s appeared to be of Mexican descent. Upon questioning the passengers, the agents determined that they were illegal immigrants. The agents arrested everyone, and Brignoni-Ponce was charged with two counts of knowingly transporting illegal immigrants. At trial, Brignoni-Ponce moved to suppress the statements of the passengers as the fruits of an illegal seizure. The trial court denied the motion, and Brignoni-Ponce was convicted.

While Brignoni-Ponce’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, which held that the Fourth Amendment prevents roving patrols from searching vehicles without warrant or probably cause. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the principles of Almeida-Sanchez applied to this case and held that the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress.

 

Question

Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit Border Patrol agents from stopping a vehicle and questioning its occupants based solely on their appearance?

Media for United States v. Brignoni-Ponce

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 18, 1975 in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 30, 1975 in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

In the third case, the United States against Brignoni-Ponce, No. 74-114, presents an issue about a different aspect of the Border Patrol's operations.

Respondent's car was stopped on a highway where there was no established checkpoint.

No search is in issue in this case because the passengers immediately admitted that they were aliens illegally in the country.

Because a mere stop, the questioning about citizenship is less intrusive than a search, we hold that the standard of probable cause is not required.

But even random stops for questioning anywhere near the Mexican border could subject law abiding citizens to potentially unlimited interference with their use of the highways.

We therefore hold that Border Patrol officers on roving patrol may not stop a private vehicle unless they have reasonable grounds to suspect that it contained aliens.

In this case, the only reason for stopping respondent's car was that the occupants appeared to be of Mexican descent.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that this alone does not constitute reasonable grounds to believe that the occupants were in fact aliens.

Accordingly, we hold that the stop was illegal.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist filed a concurring opinion.

The Chief Justice, joined by Mr. Justice Blackmun, filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Douglas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Mr. Justice White joined by Mr. Justice Blackmun filed an opinion also concurring in the judgment.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Powell.