In United States v. Soto, a case decided last month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Federal) affirmed appellant’s conviction for unlawfully transporting an illegal alien. The court admitted that this was a close case, but ultimately affirmed the ruling of the trial court denying the appellant’s motion to suppress.
Facts: Immigration case. Upon seeing Border Patrol agents, a passenger in appellant’s vehicle, exhibited a look of shock and immediately ducked down and slumped back, out of the agents’ sight. (The Court held that the only plausible explanation for this behavior is that the passenger was attempting to hide from the agents.) Adding to the agents’ suspicion, when they pulled up alongside appellant’s vehicle, the passenger’s darkly tinted rear window, which was halfway down when the agents first saw it, had been completely rolled up. Finally, the agents made their observations sixty miles from the border on a route known for illegal alien trafficking.
The 5th Circuit applied the Supreme Court standard for reasonable suspicion that was laid out in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975), wherein the Court held,
factors that may be considered in determining reasonable suspicion include: (1) the area’s proximity to the border; (2) characteristics of the area; (3) usual traffic patterns; (4) the agents’ experience in detecting illegal activity; (5) behavior of the driver; (6) particular aspects or characteristics of the vehicle; (7) information about recent illegal trafficking of aliens or narcotics in the area; and (8) the number of passengers and their appearance and behavior.
Explaining that no single factor is determinative in this test, the court held that under the totality of the circumstances, the court held that the conduct witnessed by the Border Patrol agents was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to justify the traffic stop.