United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Vermillion Police Station

DOCKET NO.: 74-1560
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 428 US 543 (1976)
ARGUED: Apr 26, 1976
DECIDED: Jul 06, 1976

Ballard Bennett – for petitioner in No. 75-5387, by Mark L
Charles M. Sevilla – for respondent in No. 75-1560
Mark L. Evans –

Facts of the case

Martinez-Fuerte and others were charged with transporting illegal Mexican aliens. They were stopped at a routine fixed checkpoint for brief questioning of the vehicle’s occupants on a major highway not far from the Mexican border.


Do such stops violate the Fourth Amendment’s proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Media for United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 26, 1976 in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – July 06, 1976 in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

In 74-1560 United States against Martinez and 75-5387 Sifuentes against the United States.

Again, we have two cases that present the same issue.

The problem here arises from aliens to enter the United States illegally, primarily from Mexico.

The border with Mexico is almost 2000 miles long.

There are several million aliens illegally in the country most of whom crossed the Mexican border surreptitiously.

They have void lawful ports of entry, cross on foot at various points and rendezvous smugglers to transport them inland.

The border patrol conducts three kinds of inland traffic checking operations, roving patrols, temporary checkpoints and permanently located checkpoints.

We are concerned today with the operation of two permanent checkpoints, one located on a principal highway in California and the other on important highway in Texas.

The defendants in these cases were stopped for questioning and aliens were found in both vehicles.

The issue presented is whether the Fourth Amendment prohibition against searches and seizures was violated by routine checkpoint stops of vehicles on a public highway for the questioning of occupants.

These stops are made where there is neither probable cause nor any reasonable suspicion in a legal sense for leaving the vehicles contain illegal aliens.

At the San Clemente checkpoint involved in one of these cases during an eight day period in 1974, 146,000 vehicles passed the checkpoint, all were slowed to a few miles per hour to allow for a fleeting visual inspection.

820 vehicles were selected and referred to a secondary area for routine questioning as to citizenship.

Of the 820 vehicles so selected, 171 were found to be transporting a total of 725 deportable aliens.

The questioning that occurs usually takes no more than three to five minutes.

The stopping of motorist on highways for various inquiries, license checks, weight limit inspections, fruit and vegetable inspections and alike is familiar to all motorists.

We hold that stops for brief questioning routinely conducted at an official checkpoint wholly consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

The intrusion on privacy and the limitation on freedom of movement in these situations are minimal.

The public interest and the need for this widest law enforcement technique on the other hand have been demonstrated abundantly by the records in these cases.

Accordingly we reverse number 74-1560, here from the Court of Appeal from the Ninth Circuit and we affirm 75-5387 here from the Court of Appeals from the Fifth Circuit.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall has concurred.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Powell.