Legal memo

The brief facts of the given case are that on 1st October 2007 at about 11 pm Border Petrol Officer Michael Smith noticed a green mini van traveling on the east west road which was 8 km from the US – Mexico border and the area was notorious for the smuggling of illegal immigrants and marijuana in to the USA. Officer Smith became more suspicious after he saw that there were 9 people sitting in the mini van and all seemed to be of Mexican origin. Going by his hunch Officer Smith flagged down the mini van and insisted the people who were traveling in it to produce their id proofs. Except one individual Mathew Dulce all the other people sitting in the van were able to prove their US residency. Officer Smith also noticed that a plastic bag was stashed underneath a seat and on examination of the contents he discovered that it contained 10 kg of marijuana. . The driver of the minivan John Leek voluntarily stated that the marijuana belonged to him. Officer Smith arrested Dulce for illegally being in the country and also arrested Leek for possession of marijuana a banned susbstance in the US.

The Main Issue involved in the given case is that whether the stopping of the vehicle violated the fourth Amendment right of Leek and Dulce individually. Other than that one more ancillary issue also crops up i.e. the infringement of the right of privacy of the two accused persons.  Lets Examine it in detail but before that we ought to know the rule that will have a bearing on the final disposal of this case.

The rule that will be applied and in whose light the given facts will be examined is the Fourth Amendment – ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'(Fourth Amendment ;U.S. Constitution)

The Fourth Amendment  of the United States Constitution is one of the  many provisions that are  included in the Bill of Rights. The fourth amendment along with other constitutional amendments came in to being after passed by the congress on 15th December 1791. The Fourth amendment has got its roots in the colonial past of the United States of America and the American Revolution. In those times illegal search, seizures and detention were the order of the day by the colonial masters. The unsavoury methods were used to subjugate and throttle the popular uprising against the unpopular rule of the colonialists. All the sane as well as revolutionary voices were silenced in this manner. There was no respect for the human rights. After the colonialists left and the United State of America started weaving its own destiny, this thing was uppermost in the minds of the law makers that to uphold the human dignity some kind of legal barrier should be created so that the common man can be saved from the archaic and barbarous methods of the high-handed authorities.

It was also stated that if any arrest, detention, search and seizure has to be done than it should be judicially sanctioned and  done as per the due process of law and not in a arbitrary manner. James Madison the fourth president of the United States can be given credit as he was the architect of the fourth amendment. Over the years there has been considerable shifting of legal position on the balance between the basic human rights and the state’s concern for controlling the spiralling crime rate. It has been decided through various judgenments and there are a few exceptions also to the fourth amendment. In some cases the state’s interest can over-ride the individual’s rights. Thus, the question that arises is that if the two clauses of the fourth Amendment’s should be read together to infer that only the search and seizures that are ”reasonable” are those which meet the requirements of the second clause, that is, are pursuant to warrants issued under the prescribed safeguards, or whether the two clauses are independent, so that searches under warrant must comply with the second clause but that there are ”reasonable” searches under the first clause which need not comply with the second clause.(Scope of the Amendment)

Now lets discuss the case of Mathew Dulce and John Leek in the light of some decided cases and see whether the provisions of the fourth amendment have been violated in their case or not. Though search and seizure without a judicial warrant is considered as a violation of the fourth amendment but it has to be examined before that whether it comes under one of the exception that are enumerated under the fourth amendment. It can also be examined that the decision Officer Smith took under the given circumstances was reasonable or not. Here Officer Smith stopped the minivan for inspection of the documents of the travelers as he felt that all the people sitting in the van are illegal migrants, as their facial features resembled the Mexican people. After finding the documents of each one of them except one person in order he further searched the mini van and found a bag full of marijuana belonging to the driver, who apparently confessed this fact. In ‘Luis Sanches Plasola vs. U.S.’ the appellant’s car was stopped by a custom officer without any warrant, he was searched, marijuana was found on him and so he was arrested and committed to trial. The trial court sentenced him to fifteen years of imprisonment. The appellant challenged the verdict on five different counts one among them was that ‘the stopping of his car, his arrest, and the search of his car, were without warrant or probable cause, and hence violative of the Fourth Amendment’. The Supreme Court ruled that even if the convict had a previous history of similar offence, not even in that case a custom officer could stop, search, seize and arrest on the basis of his general belief about the convict. He can do that only through warrant of arrest or search. In this present case the conduct of the custom officer towards the convict was clearly contrary to the purpose of the provisions of the Fourth Amendment.

In ‘Terry vs. Ohio’  the legal issue that came up for consideration of the Hon’ble Supreme Court was that whether the recovery of revolver from the petitioner during a randomly conducted stop and frisk procedure by the police is violative of the petitioners rights under the fourth amendment? The Supreme Court decided that the search of the petitioner by the police though without warrant was not violative of the fourth amendment and was in fact a reasonable decision taken by the police officer considering the fact that the officer found the petitioner suspicious and with the sole purpose of protecting himself and others just conducted a preliminary frisking and found the weapon on him. Moreover, the revolver was even admitted in to evidence against the Petitioner.

In ‘United States v. Brignoni-Ponce’ it was held that The Fourth Amendment doesn’t provide for  stopping people for questioning about their citizenship on less than a reasonable suspicion that they may be aliens. (Pp. 422 U. S. 883-884). In ‘Carroll v. United States’ it was held that prolonged detention of travelers can be justified if backed by reasonable suspicion, In United States v. Ortiz it was held that in cases when motorists are briefly stopped due to reasonable suspicion that the motor might be carrying aliens then it’s modest interference with the Fourth amendment;

The above discussion clearly points to one fact that in the case of  Mathew Dulce and  John Leek it is not a case of violation of the Fourth Amendment if we discuss according to the prevailing times after 9/11. It was a reasonable suspicion and was not certainly biased against the aliens or Mexicans in particular. Officer Smith was trying to implement the law in right earnest and taking his past experience in account he thought that the people traveling in the mini van might be illegal migrants. There was no time to get an appropriate warrant issued. So he checked their identity then and there without any kind of prejudice and bias in mind, so it is certainly not an infringement of the fourth amendment. In the second case the officer Smith after ascertaining the identities of the people traveling in the mini van accidental discovered the bag of marijuana, and it’s owner even confessed to the crime, so in the light of facts it can be said that officer Smith didn’t intend to violate the fourth amendment of even John Leek and was just doing his duty to the hilt. As far as the privacy rights are concerned they can not in all certainty over ride the national interest. In the given case Officer Smith had genuine and reasonable suspicion to search and seize so he even didn’t violated the privacy laws of the accused persons.

Works Cited

‘Fourth Amendment’‘Scope of the amendment’

      3.  Luis Sanchez Plazola v. United States, 1961,, 291 F.2d 56 (9th Cir. 1961)


Terry vs. Ohio 392 U.S. 1

5.      United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975)