During a routine border inspection, the Customs inspector directed the defendant to leave his vehicle, which was then removed to a secondary inspection station. There, another inspector tapping on the gas tank, which sounded solid. A mechanic was summoned, and within twenty-five minutes the gas tank was removed. Controlled substances were found inside.
Whether the removal of the gas tank required reasonable suspicion?
No. The routine (non-damaging) inspection of property at the border is reasonable without suspicion.
Routine searches made at the border are reasonable by virtue of the fact that they take place at the border. The Court stated that the government’s “interest in preventing the entry of unwanted persons and effects is at its zenith at the international border.” Routine searches and seizures that take place at the border are reasonable to regulate the collection of duties and to prevent the introduction of contraband into the country. The expectation of privacy is less at the border than it is in the interior, which is a significant factor, as well, in allowing these searches.
The Court refused to require reasonable suspicion before the government removed the gas tank, in this instance, as the procedure did not damage his property in any noticeable manner. The government’s authority to conduct suspicionless searches at the border includes the authority to remove, disassemble, and reassemble a vehicle’s fuel tank. The Court also warned that “[W]hile it may be true that some searches of property are so destructive as to require a different result, this was not one of them.”
541 U.S. 149, 124 S. Ct. 1582 (2004)