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Federal District Court reviewed and denied a motion to suppress narcotics seized during a traffic stop. The plaintiff, Ralph Arvizu, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit, which suppressed the narcotics violation. The case was granted certiorari by the United States Supreme Court of appeals concluded that Stoddard has significant reasonable suspicion to believe that Arvizu had and was engaged in illegal activity. Which considering the totality of the circumstances did not violate Arvizu’s Fourth Amendment right and that the border patrol agent formed a well-founded reasonable suspicion to effect an investigative traffic stop on the vehicle.



On January 1998, the United States Border Patrol Agent Clinton Stoddard had been proactively patrolling the area of Douglas, Arizona. Agent Stoddard had been conducting checkpoints in the area where metal sensors are placed on rarely used roadways to aid in the detection of smuggling. Agent Stoddard had been notified that at approximately two in the afternoon that the sensors were tripped. Agent Stoddard responded to the area to investigate the disturbance; while doing so, he located a minivan leaving the area. Based on his training and experience, Agent Stoddard was aware that these types of vehicles are commonly used in smuggling operations. Agent Stoddard began to follow the minivan. While doing so, Agent Stoddard reported that the driver appeared to be abnormally stiff, and his glare remained on the roadway at all times. Agent Stoddard additionally noted that the three small children appeared to have their knees elevated as if they were standing on an item(s) on the floorboard while the children were waving at him in an awkward and rehearsed manner. While Agent Stoddard was following the vehicle, it signaled and abruptly turned down a roadway in an effort to avoid a border patrol checkpoint. Agent Stoddard notified dispatch and requested a vehicle registration check on the vehicle which resulted in being informed that it belonged to known suspected drug trafficking individuals. Based on the facts presented, Agent Stoddard conducted an investigative stop on the vehicle. The driver, Ralph Arvizu, gave verbal consent to Agent Stoddard to search the vehicle. During the said search, Agent Stoddard located 100 pounds of Marijuana throughout the cabin of the vehicle.

Arvizu was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of Marijuana with the intent to distribute it. Arvizu argued during his trial that Agent Stoddard violated his Fourth Amendment and did not have reasonable suspicion to effect a legal stop on his vehicle. Ultimately, the District Court denied the motion and cited several factors which gave the Agent reasonable suspicion to effect a stop on his vehicle. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in favor of Arvizu, stating that the factors of the traffic stop offered little to no weight of suspicion, and the facts were not enough to effect a stop. Subsequently, the Supreme Court remanded the district court appeals decision.


Arvizu argued that the U.S. Border patrol agent, Agent Stoddard, had not created a well-founded reasonable suspicion to suspect that he or the occupants of the vehicle had been involved in criminal activity and/or warranted a stop. The District Court disagreed with the motion and denied the narcotics suppression.


Did Border Patrol Agent Stoddard have articulable reasonable suspicion to effect a traffic stop on Arvizu and, in such, violate his Fourth Amendment Right?


The United District Court determined that the detention of Arviuz was lawful and the located narcotics would be admitted into evidence; however, the District Court of Appeals ruled against the Border Patrol agent, stating that he did not have specific articulable facts and circumstances to establish to effect a stop on the minivan. The Supreme Court disagreed with the ruling and upheld the stop.


In a unanimous decision delivered by Child Justice William H. Rehnquist upheld the reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment to effect a legal and lawful stop on Arvizu. Child Justice Rehnquist cited that Law Enforcement officers may conduct investigatory stops if the officer believes that criminal activity “may be afoot” (Pelic, 2003).


The Supreme Court has ruled in favor that the fourth amendment requires that the court’s opinion must encompass all views and take in account of the totality of the circumstance. Under the Fourth Amendment, it does not hinder or prohibit investigatory stops as long as the law enforcement officer has articulable facts and circumstances which lead to a reasonable suspicion.

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