The U.S. Border Patrol operated a fixed checkpoint on a major highway directly north of the Mexican border. They stopped vehicles there with no suspicion to determine if the occupants were lawfully in the United States.
Whether the government must demonstrate reasonable suspicion to engage in fixed checkpoint seizures?
No. The government’s seizures are reasonable as they are limited in scope and justified by compelling need.
The Court held that the Border Patrol’s routine stopping of vehicles at a permanent checkpoint located on a major highway away from the Mexican border for brief questioning of the vehicle’s occupants is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. These stops and subsequent questioning may be made at reasonably located checkpoints with no individualized suspicion that the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens. To require that such stops always be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car necessary to identify it as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. The Court based its conclusion on the fact that while the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the intrusion on privacy interests is limited. The Court contrasted the level of intrusion at a checkpoint stop (none required) with that of a roving patrol (reasonable suspicion required) and cited relatively low expectation of privacy in an automobile.
428 U.S. 543, 96 S. Ct. 3074 (1976)