The defendant was stopped and searched by a roving patrol of the U.S. Border Patrol. He challenged 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 the defendant of a federal crime. The government sought to justify the search on the basis of a federal law that provided for warrantless searches of automobiles and other conveyances “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.” Regulations defined “reasonable distance” as “within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States.”
Whether roving patrols could engage in searches and seizures without probable cause or reasonable suspicion?
No. The warrantless search of the defendant’s automobile, made without probable cause or consent, violated the Fourth Amendment.
The government could not justify the search on the basis of any case law applicable to automobile searches, as probable cause was lacking. Nor could the government justify the search by analogy with a border inspection, as the officers had no reason to believe that the defendant had crossed the border (nexus with the border). Nor did the government have the defendant’s consent to conduct the search. The Court explained that travelers may be stopped in crossing an international boundary (nexus) because of national self-protection. However, the search of the defendant’s automobile on a road lying at all points at least 20 miles north of the Mexican border, was different. Those lawfully within the country and entitled to the use of public highways have a right of free passage without interruption or search.
413 U.S. 266, 93 S. Ct. 2535 (1973)