Appeals Court Says A Person Driving A Registered Vehicle On A Public Road Is Not 'Reasonably Suspicious'
from the nothing-more-inherently-criminal-than-driving-a-car dept
Well, let’s see what government agents are claiming is reasonably suspicious these days. Ah, here it is: driving a registered vehicle on a public road. The streets are clogged with scofflaws, apparently. Thanks to the skill set of one Carlos Perez of the US Border Patrol, we can finally start putting these people away.
This ultra-ridiculous assertion comes courtesy of an appealed motion to suppress that has made its way to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The government is the party doing the appealing, having come out of the losing end of Jeffrey Freeman’s request to have evidence obtained during two stops by the Border Patrol tossed out.
The suppression of the first stop isn’t at issue as the government isn’t challenging that particular suppression. But it wants to keep the evidence obtained in the second stop. The problem is Agent Perez’s definition of “reasonable suspicion” isn’t anywhere in the neighborhood of “reasonable.” According to Perez, he stopped Freeman because he turned onto a public road that happened to bypass a Border Patrol checkpoint near Freer, Texas. Freer is 50 miles inland from the border, but the government has declared anything within 100 miles is under the control of the Border Patrol.
But the road Freeman turned onto (FM 2050) is more than a detour around BP checkpoints. According to Perez’s own testimony, a dozen homes and a handful of businesses can be accessed via FM 2050, making it far more than a way to avoid being hassled by the Border Patrol. Still, Perez insisted the road was only used by those transporting illegal immigrants or contraband, turning residents and business owners (along with their employees) into criminals that just haven’t been caught yet.
According to Perez, the BP stops almost every vehicle that turns onto FM 2050, reasoning that the very act of driving a public road is suspicious enough to justify a stop. Even Perez’s own experience contradicts the narrative he’s pushing. From the opinion [PDF]:
Agent Perez estimated the Border Patrol made approximately ten to twenty roving stops per week on FM 2050. He estimated that he had only conducted approximately twenty to thirty stops throughout his eight years there, and only two or three of those stops resulted in seizures.
During the stop, Agent Perez discovered Freeman’s passenger was not a legal resident of the US. Freeman moved to suppress. The lower court found Perez’s assertions about suspicious behavior ridiculous and stated his stop of Freeman was nothing more than a “fishing expedition.”
The Appeals Court is no more impressed with Perez’s claims, even when the Wild West aspects of the “Constitution-Free Zone” are taken into account.
At this point, we are left with the following facts to be viewed from Agent Perez’s limited experience in detecting illegal activity: Freeman’s truck, a type commonly found in the area, was seen less than 50 miles from the border, it turned right onto a road known for smuggling, and his truck was registered to an individual. We conclude that these facts, without more, are not enough to support reasonable suspicion, especially when viewed through the eyes of an agent with minimal experience detecting illegal activity. Courts that have found reasonable suspicion, even in cases in close proximity to the border, have generally required more.
Suspicion isn’t “reasonable” when it has the ability to sweep up almost every driver on the road.
If the facts of this case constituted reasonable suspicion, virtually anyone who drove a car registered to an individual and turned right onto FM 2050, a public road, would be subject to being stopped by Border Patrol agents. As the district court pointed out, had Agent Perez waited a little longer, he may have been able to develop reasonable suspicion; he did not.
Agent Perez said his extensive experience led to him drawing these unreasonable suspicion conclusions. The Appeals Court points out the opposite is true: Perez may have eight years experience as a Border Patrol officer, but he only participated in 20-30 stops on the road where he stopped Freeman. And he was only successful about 10% of the time. The only thing Perez can sufficiently claim expertise in is fishing expeditions. Even with all the leeway granted to border enforcement, he still only managed to rack up three wins. This isn’t someone who knows the ins and outs of observing human behavior to spot immigration violations. This is someone hopping from traffic stop to traffic stop hoping to get lucky.