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Border Patrol Agents Can Consider Ethnicity
in Traffic Stops, Rules Ninth Circuit


Summer 1999

U.S. Border Patrol agents can consider ethnicity when making traffic stops, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said on May 13 in a 2-to1 ruling. The case involves two Hispanic men who turned their cars around to avoid a highway checkpoint. They were stopped by Border Patrol agents after a motorist advised the agents that two cars had turned around. Agents searched both vehicles and found marijuana and a .32-caliber pistol (U.S. v. Montero Camargo, No. 97-50643; Associated Press, "Court Backs Border Patrol Traffic Stops," San Jose Mercury News, May 15, 1999; Associated Press, "Court Rules Agents Can Consider Ethnicity When Stopping Drivers," Houston Chronicle, May 16, 1999).

Writing for the majority, visiting U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell cited a case (U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 885 (1975)), in which the court said police could consider the character of the area, nearness to the border, traffic patterns, previous smuggling problems in the area, the officer's experience and the behavior of the passengers. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the combination of factors the ethnic origin of the men, the agents' prior experience, the history of the area as a drug drop-off zone, and the fact that the two cars were traveling together and turned around were sufficient to justify the stop.

In his dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski cited a 1994 ruling by the Ninth Circuit (U.S. v. Rodriguez-Sanchez, 23 F.3d 1488 (9th Cir. 1994)), in which the court ruled that reasonable suspicion can't be based on broad profiles that cast suspicion on entire categories of people.

U.S. Border Patrol - 425 Eye St., NW, Room 4226, Washington, DC 20536, Tel: (202) 514-3073.

Defense Attorneys for case: Harold Murray - Oden, Green, Murray & Thompson, 1200 3rd Ave., San Diego, CA 92101, Tel: (619) 266-8006, Fax: (619) 702-0809, E-mail: <>; Steven F. Hubackek - Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc., 225 Broadway, Suite 900, San Diego, CA 92101-5008, Tel: (619)234-8467, Fax: (619) 687-2666, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.