United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable G. Murray Snow United States District Judge.
before the Court is Defendant Mary Elizabeth Sam's Motion
to Suppress, (Doc. 45). For the reasons set forth below, the
Court denies the motion.
March 16, 2016, Agent Renteria of the United States Border
Patrol ("USBP") stopped Defendant Mary Elizabeth
Sam ("Sam") and her two children at a checkpoint at
milepost 30 on Federal Route 15 ("the FR 15
checkpoint"). At the evidentiary hearing held on this
motion, Agent Renteria testified that Sam was nervous,
jittery, and reluctant to make direct eye contact with him.
Due to Sam's demeanor, Agent Renteria asked Sam if he
could search her trunk. Sam verbally agreed to Agent
Renteria's request and unlocked the trunk. Upon opening
the trunk, Agent Renteria observed an open box of laundry
detergent with a strong odor. Alongside the laundry detergent
was a large, heavy, sports bag. Agent Renteria asked Sam if
he could inspect the bag. Sam said that he could, and upon
opening the bag Agent Renteria found what he suspected to be
two large cellophane bales of marijuana. Sam was then placed
in custody. The bundles tested positive for marijuana. Sam
was charged with one count of Conspiracy to Possess with
Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (Marijuana) and
one count of Possession with the Intent to Distribute a
Controlled Substance (Marijuana). See 21 U.S.C.
§§ 84(a)(1), (b)(1)(D).
asserts the marijuana taken from her vehicle should be
excluded from evidence because it was obtained as the result
of an unlawful search. (Doc. 45 at 1.) Sam argues that the FR
15 checkpoint is unconstitutionally operating as a general
crime checkpoint instead of as a lawful immigration
checkpoint, and the detention and questioning were longer
than legally permitted. (Id.)
overcome a defendant's motion to suppress, the government
bears the burden of demonstrating the evidence was not the
fruit of an unlawful search or seizure. See United States
v. Johnson, 936 F.2d 1082, 1084 (1991) (citing
Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390-91 (1978)).
government has met its burden in demonstrating that the
marijuana obtained from Sam's vehicle was the result of a
lawful search. The search occurred at a lawful immigration
checkpoint, Sam was not detained longer than necessary under
the law, and Sam voluntarily consented to the search of her
vehicle's trunk and bag.
The FR 15 checkpoint lawfully operates as an immigration
well established that immigration control is a valid primary
purpose for briefly stopping cars without individualized
suspicion at highway checkpoints near the border. The Supreme
Court, undertaking the balancing of government and individual
interests, has determined that "the flow of illegal
aliens cannot be controlled effectively at the border"
and there is only a limited intrusion on individuals'
Fourth Amendment rights when they are briefly stopped for
limited questioning at these checkpoints. See United
States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-57 (1976).
the government has demonstrated, and Sam does not contest,
that the FR 15 checkpoint was designed with the primary
purpose to detect and deter illegal immigration. The FR 15
checkpoint shares similar characteristics with the
checkpoints upheld as constitutional in
Martinez-Fuerte. The checkpoint is along a highway
which feeds into two major routes to the international
border, approximately 65 miles north of the border, in
compliance with federal regulations. See 8 U.S.C.
§ 1357(a)(3) (stating checkpoints must be placed
"within a reasonable distance" from the border); 8
C.F.R. § 287.1(a)(2) (defining a "reasonable
distance" to be within 100 miles); see also
Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. at 556-57 (1976) (finding a
legitimate governmental interest in placing permanent
checkpoints on important highways leading away from the
border, for "in their absence such highways would offer
illegal aliens a quick and safe route into the
is an additional immigration reason justifying the placement
of the checkpoint in the northern portion of the Tohono
O'odham reservation. The Tohono O'odham reservation
extends into Mexico, and members of the Tohono O'odham
Nation live on both sides of the international border.
Members of the Tohono O'odham Nation who are not United
States citizens are allowed to be present upon reservation
land in the United States but do not have permission to
travel further into the United States. Thus, citizens of the
Tohono O'odham Nation who are residents of Mexico are
turned back at the checkpoint. The extent of the nation's
reservation both south and well north of the border provides
an additional immigration-related reason for the placement of
the checkpoint in the northern portion of the Tohono
O'odham Nation, even though it is somewhat distant from
the border. Testimony at the suppression hearing indicated
that Border Patrol wished to place the checkpoint even
further north within reservation lands at least partly for
this reason, but the present location was the one approved by
the Tohono O'odham Nation.
car traveling northbound is briefly stopped at the FR 15
checkpoint and its occupants are asked about their
citizenship. This is constitutionally permissible.
SeeUnited States v. Preciado-Robes, 964
F.2d 882, 884 (9th Cir. 1992) ("[A] stop is
constitutional so long as the scope of the detention is
limited to a few brief questions about immigration, the
production of immigration documents, and a visual inspection
of the vehicle . . . limited to what can be seen without a
search." (internal quotations and citation omitted));
see also Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. at 556-57
(finding the ...