These cases involve criminal prosecutions for offenses relating to the transportation of illegal Mexican aliens. Each defendant was arrested at a permanent checkpoint operated by the Border Patrol away from the international border with Mexico, and each sought the exclusion of certain evidence on the ground that the operation of the checkpoint was incompatible with the Fourth Amendment. In each instance whether the Fourth Amendment was violated turns primarily on whether a vehicle may be stopped at a fixed checkpoint for brief questioning of its occupants even though there is no reason to believe the particular vehicle contains illegal aliens. We reserved this question last Term in United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 897 n. 3 (1975). We hold today that such stops are consistent with the Fourth Amendment. We also hold that the operation of a fixed checkpoint need not be authorized in advance by a judicial warrant.
The respondents in No. 74-1560 are defendants in three separate prosecutions resulting from arrests made on three different occasions at the permanent immigration checkpoint on Interstate 5 near San Clemente, Cal. Interstate 5 is the principal highway between San Diego and Los Angeles, and the San Clemente checkpoint is 66 road miles north of the Mexican border. We previously have described the checkpoint as follows:
The "point" agent standing between the two lanes of traffic visually screens all northbound vehicles, which the checkpoint brings to a virtual, if not a complete, halt.
We turn now to the particulars of the stops involved in No. 74-1560. and the procedural history of the case. Respondent Amado Martinez-Fuerte approached the checkpoint driving a vehicle containing two female passengers. The women were illegal Mexican aliens who had entered the United States at the San Ysidro port of entry by using false papers and rendezvoused with Martinez-Fuerte in San Diego to be transported northward. At the checkpoint their car was directed to the secondary inspection area. Martinez-Fuerte produced documents showing him to be a lawful resident alien, but his passengers admitted being present in the country unlawfully. He was charged, inter alia, with two counts of illegally transporting aliens in violation
Respondent Jose Jiminez-Garcia attempted to pass through the checkpoint while driving a car containing one passenger. He had picked the passenger up by prearrangement in San Ysidro after the latter had been smuggled across the border. Questioning at the secondary inspection area revealed the illegal status of the passenger, and Jiminez-Garcia was charged in two counts with illegally transporting an alien. 8 U. S. C. § 1324 (a) (2), and conspiring to commit that offense, 18 U. S. C. § 371. His motion to suppress the evidence derived from the stop was granted.
Respondents Raymond Guillen and Fernando Medrano-Barragan approached the checkpoint with Guillen driving and Medrano-Barragan and his wife as passengers. Questioning at the secondary inspection area revealed that Medrano-Barragan and his wife were illegal aliens. A subsequent search of the car uncovered three other illegal aliens in the trunk. Medrano-Barragan had led the other aliens across the border at the beach near Tijuana, Mexico, where they rendezvoused with Guillen, a United States citizen. Guillen and Medrano-Barragan were jointly indicted on four counts of illegally transporting
Martinez-Fuerte appealed his conviction, and the Government appealed the granting of the motions to suppress in the respective prosecutions of Jiminez-Garcia and of Guillen and Medrano-Barragan.
Petitioner in No. 75-5387, Rodolfo Sifuentes, was arrested at the permanent immigration checkpoint on U. S. Highway 77 near Sarita. Tex. Highway 77 originates in Brownsville, and it is one of the two major highways running north from the lower Rio Grande valley. The Sarita checkpoint is about 90 miles north of Brownsville,
Sifuentes drove up to the checkpoint without any visible passengers. When an agent approached the vehicle, however, he observed four passengers, one in the front seat and the other three in the rear, slumped down in the seats. Questioning revealed that each passenger was an illegal alien, although Sifuentes was a United States citizen. The aliens had met Sifuentes in the United States, by prearrangement, after swimming across the Rio Grande.
Sifuentes was indicted on four counts of illegally transporting aliens. 8 U. S. C. § 1324 (a) (2). He moved on Fourth Amendment grounds to suppress the evidence derived from the stop. The motion was denied and he was convicted after a jury trial. Sifuentes renewed his Fourth Amendment argument on appeal, contending primarily that stops made without reason to believe a car is transporting aliens illegally are unconstitutional. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the conviction, 517 F.2d 1402 (1975), relying on its opinion in United States v. Santibanez, 517 F.2d 922 (1975). There the Court of Appeals had ruled that routine checkpoint stops are consistent with the Fourth Amendment. We affirm.
The Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and the Fifth Circuits are in conflict on the constitutionality of a law enforcement technique considered important by those charged with policing the Nation's borders. Before turning to the constitutional question, we examine the context in which it arises.
It has been national policy for many years to limit immigration into the United States. Since July 1, 1968, the annual quota for immigrants from all independent countries of the Western Hemisphere, including Mexico, has been 120,000 persons. Act of Oct. 3, 1965, § 21 (e), 79 Stat. 921. Many more aliens than can be accommodated under the quota want to live and work in the United States. Consequently, large numbers of aliens seek illegally to enter or to remain in the United States. We noted last Term that "[e]stimates of the number of illegal immigrants [already] in the United States vary widely. A conservative estimate in 1972 produced a figure of about one million, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service now suggests there may be as many as 10 or 12 million aliens illegally in the country." United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975) (footnote omitted). It is estimated that 85% of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico, drawn by the fact that economic opportunities are significantly greater in the United States than they are in Mexico. United States v. Baca, 368 F. Supp., at 402.
The Border Patrol conducts three kinds of inland traffic-checking operations in an effort to minimize illegal immigration. Permanent checkpoints, such as those at San Clemente and Sarita, are maintained at or near intersections of important roads leading away from the border. They operate on a coordinated basis designed to avoid circumvention by smugglers and others who transport the illegal aliens. Temporary checkpoints, which operate like permanent ones, occasionally are established in other strategic locations. Finally, roving patrols are maintained to supplement the checkpoint system. See Almeida-Sanchez v. United
We are concerned here with permanent checkpoints, the locations of which are chosen on the basis of a number of factors. The Border Patrol believes that to assure effectiveness, a checkpoint must be (i) distant enough from the border to avoid interference with traffic in populated areas near the border, (ii) close to the confluence of two or more significant roads leading away from the border, (iii) situated in terrain that restricts vehicle passage around the checkpoint, (iv) on a stretch of highway compatible with safe operation, and (v) beyond the 25-mile zone in which "border passes," see n. 7, supra, are valid. United States v. Baca, supra, at 406.
The Fourth Amendment imposes limits on search-and-seizure powers in order to prevent arbitrary and oppressive interference by enforcement officials with the privacy and personal security of individuals. See United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U. S., at 878; United States v. Ortiz, 422 U. S., at 895; Camara v. Municipal Court,
In Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, supra, the question was whether a roving-patrol unit constitutionally could search a vehicle for illegal aliens simply because it was in the general vicinity of the border. We recognized that important law enforcement interests were at stake but held that searches by roving patrols impinged so significantly on Fourth Amendment privacy interests that a search could be conducted without consent only if there was probable cause to believe that a car contained illegal aliens, at least in the absence of a judicial warrant authorizing random searches by roving patrols in a given area. Compare 413 U. S., at 273, with id., at 283-285 (POWELL, J., concurring), and id., at 288 (WHITE, J., dissenting). We held in United States v. Ortiz, supra, that the same limitations applied to vehicle searches conducted at a permanent checkpoint.
In United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, supra, however, we recognized that other traffic-checking practices involve a different balance of public and private interests and appropriately are subject to less stringent constitutional safeguards. The question was under what circumstances a roving patrol could stop motorists in the general area of the border for brief inquiry into their residence status. We found that the interference with Fourth Amendment interests involved in such a stop was "modest," 422 U. S., at 880, while the inquiry served significant law enforcement needs. We therefore held that a roving-patrol stop need not be justified by probable
It is agreed that checkpoint stops are "seizures" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The defendants contend primarily that the routine stopping of vehicles at a checkpoint is invalid because Brignoni-Ponce must be read as proscribing any stops in the absence of reasonable suspicion. Sifuentes alternatively contends in No. 75-5387 that routine checkpoint stops are permissible only when the practice has the advance judicial authorization of a warrant. There was a warrant authorizing the stops at San Clemente but none at Sarita. As we reach the issue of a warrant requirement only if reasonable suspicion is not required, we turn first to whether reasonable suspicion is a prerequisite to a valid stop, a question to be resolved by balancing the interests at stake.
Our previous cases have recognized that maintenance of a traffic-checking program in the interior is necessary because the flow of illegal aliens cannot be controlled effectively at the border. We note here only the substantiality of the public interest in the practice of routine stops for inquiry at permanent checkpoints, a practice which the Government identifies as the most important of the traffic-checking operations. Brief for United States in No. 74-1560, pp. 19-20.
A requirement that stops on major routes inland 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 that would enable it to be identified as a possible carrier of illegal aliens. In particular, such a requirement would largely eliminate any deterrent to the conduct of well-disguised smuggling operations, even though smugglers are known to use these highways regularly.
While the need to make routine checkpoint stops is great, the consequent intrusion on Fourth Amendment interests is quite limited. The stop does intrude to a limited extent on motorists' right to "free passage without
Neither the vehicle nor its occupants are searched, and visual inspection of the vehicle is limited to what can be seen without a search. This objective intrusion—the stop itself, the questioning, and the visual inspection— also existed in roving-patrol stops. But we view checkpoint stops in a different light because the subjective intrusion—the generating of concern or even fright on the part of lawful travelers—is appreciably less in the case of a checkpoint stop. In Ortiz, we noted:
In Brignoni-Ponce, we recognized that Fourth Amendment analysis in this context also must take into account the overall degree of interference with legitimate traffic. 422 U. S., at 882-883. We concluded there that random roving-patrol stops could not be tolerated because they "would subject the residents of . . . [border] areas to
Routine checkpoint stops do not intrude similarly on the motoring public. First, the potential interference with legitimate traffic is minimal. Motorists using these highways are not taken by surprise as they know, or may obtain knowledge of, the location of the checkpoints and will not be stopped elsewhere. Second, checkpoint operations both appear to and actually involve less discretionary enforcement activity. The regularized manner in which established checkpoints are operated is visible evidence, reassuring to law-abiding motorists, that the stops are duly authorized and believed to serve the public interest. The location of a fixed checkpoint is not chosen by officers in the field, but by officials responsible for making overall decisions as to the most effective allocation of limited enforcement resources. We may assume that such officials will be unlikely to locate a checkpoint where it bears arbitrarily or oppressively on motorists as a class. And since field officers may stop only those cars passing the checkpoint, there is less room for abusive or harassing stops of individuals than there was in the case of roving-patrol stops. Moreover, a claim that a particular exercise of discretion in locating or operating a checkpoint is unreasonable is subject to post-stop judicial review.
The defendants note correctly that to accommodate public and private interests some quantum of individualized suspicion is usually a prerequisite to a constitutional search or seizure.
We think the same conclusion is appropriate here, where we deal neither with searches nor with the sanctity of private dwellings, ordinarily afforded the most stringent Fourth Amendment protection. See, e. g., McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451 (1948). As we have noted earlier, one's expectation of privacy in an automobile and of freedom in its operation are significantly different from the traditional expectation of privacy and freedom in one's residence. United States v. Ortiz, 422 U. S., at 896 n. 2; see Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 590-591 (1974) (plurality
Sifuentes' alternative argument is that routine stops at a checkpoint are permissible only if a warrant has given judicial authorization to the particular checkpoint location and the practice of routine stops. A warrant requirement in these circumstances draws some support from Camara, where the Court held that, absent consent, an "area" warrant was required to make a building code inspection, even though the search could be conducted absent cause to believe that there were violations in the building searched.
We do not think, however, that Camara is an apt
A warrant provided assurance to the occupant on these scores. We believe that the visible manifestations of the field officers' authority at a checkpoint provide substantially the same assurances in this case.
Other purposes served by the requirement of a warrant also are inapplicable here. One such purpose is to prevent hindsight from coloring the evaluation of the reasonableness of a search or seizure. Cf. United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 455-456, n. 22 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). The reasonableness of checkpoint stops, however, turns on factors such as the location and method of operation of the checkpoint, factors that are not susceptible to the distortion of hindsight, and therefore will be open to post-stop review notwithstanding
In summary, we hold that stops for brief questioning routinely conducted at permanent checkpoints are consistent with the Fourth Amendment and need not be authorized by warrant.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, dissenting.
Today's decision is the ninth this Term marking the continuing evisceration of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Early in the Term, Texas v. White, 423 U.S. 67 (1975), permitted the warrantless search of an automobile in police custody despite the unreasonableness of the custody
Consistent with this purpose to debilitate Fourth Amendment protections, the Court's decision today virtually empties the Amendment of its reasonableness requirement by holding that law enforcement officials manning fixed checkpoint stations who make standardless seizures of persons do not violate the Amendment. This holding cannot be squared with this Court's recent decisions in United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891 (1975); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975);
While the requisite justification for permitting a search or seizure may vary in certain contexts, compare Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89 (1964), with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967), even in the exceptional situations permitting intrusions on less than probable cause, it has long been settled that justification must be measured by objective standards. Thus in the seminal decision justifying intrusions on less-than-probable cause, Terry v. Ohio, supra, the Court said:
Terry thus made clear what common sense teaches: Conduct, to be reasonable, must pass muster under objective standards applied to specific facts.
We are told today, however, that motorists without number may be individually stopped, questioned, visually
The Court assumes, and I certainly agree, that persons stopped at fixed checkpoints, whether or not referred to a secondary detention area, are "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, since the vehicle and its occupants are subjected to a "visual inspection," the intrusion clearly exceeds mere physical restraint, for officers are able to see more in a stopped vehicle than in vehicles traveling at normal speeds down the highway. As the Court concedes, ante, at 558, the checkpoint stop involves essentially the same intrusions as a roving-patrol stop, yet the Court provides no principled basis for distinguishing checkpoint stops.
Certainly that basis is not provided in the Court's reasoning that the subjective intrusion here is appreciably less than in the case of a stop by a roving patrol.
In addition to overlooking these dimensions of subjective intrusion, the Court, without explanation, also ignores one major source of vexation. In abandoning any requirement of a minimum of reasonable suspicion, or even articulable suspicion, the Court in every practical sense renders meaningless, as applied to checkpoint stops, the Brignoni-Ponce holding that "standing alone [Mexican appearance] does not justify stopping all Mexican-Americans to ask if they are aliens."
Every American citizen of Mexican ancestry and every Mexican alien lawfully in this country must know after today's decision that he travels the fixed checkpoint highways at the risk of being subjected not only to a stop, but also to detention and interrogation, both prolonged and to an extent far more than for non-Mexican appearing motorists. To be singled out for referral and to be detained and interrogated must be upsetting to any motorist. One wonders what actual experience supports my Brethren's conclusion that referrals "should not be frightening or offensive because of their public and relatively routine nature." Ante, at 560.
As an initial matter, whatever force this argument may have, it cannot apply to the secondary detentions that occurred in No. 74-1560. Once a vehicle has been slowed and observed at a checkpoint, ample opportunity
The Court's rationale is also not persuasive because several of the factors upon which officers may rely in establishing reasonable suspicion are readily ascertainable, regardless of the flow of traffic. For example, with checkpoint stops as with roving-patrol stops, "[a]spects of the vehicle itself may justify suspicion." Id., at 885. Thus it is relevant that the vehicle is a certain type of station wagon, appears to be heavily loaded, contains an extraordinary number of persons, or contains persons trying to hide. See ibid. If such factors are satisfactory to permit the imposition of a reasonable-suspicion requirement in the more demanding circumstances of a roving patrol, where officers initially deal with a vehicle traveling, not at a crawl, but at highway speeds, they clearly should suffice in the circumstances of a checkpoint stop.
Finally, the Court's argument fails for more basic reasons. There is no principle in the jurisprudence of fundamental rights which permits constitutional limitations to be dispensed with merely because they cannot be conveniently satisfied. Dispensing with reasonable suspicion as a prerequisite to stopping and inspecting motorists because the inconvenience of such a requirement would make it impossible to identify a given car as a possible carrier of aliens is no more justifiable than dispensing with probable cause as prerequisite to the search of an individual because the inconvenience of
The Court also attempts to justify its approval of standardless conduct on the ground that checkpoint stops "involve less discretionary enforcement activity" than roving stops. Ante, at 559. This view is at odds with its later more revealing statement that "officers must have wide discretion in selecting the motorists to be diverted for the brief questioning involved." Ante, at 564. Similarly unpersuasive is the statement that "since field officers may stop only those cars passing the checkpoint, there is less room for abusive or harassing stops of individuals than there was in the case of roving-patrol stops." Ante, at 559.
We answer this question in the negative. As indicated above, the choice of checkpoint locations is an administrative decision that must be left largely within the discretion of the Border Patrol, see n. 13, supra; cf. Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 538 (1967). We think the decision to locate a checkpoint at San Clemente was reasonable. The location meets the criteria prescribed by the Border Patrol to assure effectiveness, see supra, at 553, and the evidence supports the view that the needs of law enforcement are furthered by this location. The absolute number of apprehensions at the checkpoint is high, see supra, at 554, confirming Border Patrol judgment that significant numbers of illegal aliens regularly use Interstate 5 at this point. Also, San Clemente was selected as the location where traffic is lightest between San Diego and Los Angeles, thereby minimizing interference with legitimate traffic.
No question has been raised about the reasonableness of the location of the Sarita checkpoint.
The dissenting opinion further warns:
"Every American citizen of Mexican ancestry and every Mexican alien lawfully in this country must know after today's decision that he travels the fixed checkpoint highways at [his] risk . . . ." Post, at 572.
For the reason stated in n. 16, supra, this concern is misplaced. Moreover, upon a proper showing, courts would not be powerless to prevent the misuse of checkpoints to harass those of Mexican ancestry.
"[Mexican ancestry] alone would justify neither a reasonable belief that they were aliens, nor a reasonable belief that the car concealed other aliens who were illegally in the country. Large numbers of native-born and naturalized citizens have the physical characteristics identified with Mexican ancestry, and even in the border area a relatively small proportion of them are aliens. The likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor, but standing alone it does not justify stopping all Mexican-Americans to ask if they are aliens." 422 U. S., at 886-887 (footnote omitted).
Today we are told that secondary referrals may be based on criteria that would not sustain a roving-patrol stop, and specifically that such referrals may be based largely on Mexican ancestry. Ante, at 563. Even if the difference between Brignoni-Ponce and this decision is only a matter of degree, we are not told what justifies the different treatment of Mexican appearance or why greater emphasis is permitted in the less demanding circumstances of a checkpoint. That law in this country should tolerate use of one's ancestry as probative of possible criminal conduct is repugnant under any circumstances.
Even if good faith is assumed, the affront to the dignity of American citizens of Mexican ancestry and Mexican aliens lawfully within the country is in no way diminished. The fact still remains that people of Mexican ancestry are targeted for examination at checkpoints and that the burden of checkpoint intrusions will lie heaviest on them. That, as the Court observes, ante, at 563 n. 16, "[l]ess than 1% of the motorists passing the checkpoint are stopped for questioning," whereas approximately 16% of the population of California is Spanish-speaking or of Spanish surname, has little bearing on this point—or, for that matter, on the integrity of Border Patrol practices. There is no indication how many of the 16% have physical and grooming characteristics identifiable as Mexican. There is no indication what portion of the motoring public in California is of Spanish or Mexican ancestry. Given the socioeconomic status of this portion, it is likely that the figure is significantly less than 16%. Neither is there any indication that those of Mexican ancestry are not subjected to lengthier initial stops than others, even if they are not secondarily detained. Finally, there is no indication of the ancestral makeup of the 1% who are referred for secondary detention. If, as is quite likely the case, it is overwhelmingly Mexican, the sense of discrimination which will be felt is only enhanced.