Sunday, November 3, 2013

United States v. Flores-Montano case brief

United States v. Flores-Montano case brief summary
541 U.S. 149 (2004)

Customs officials seized 37 kilograms of marijuana from defendant's gas tank at the international border. A grand jury indicted defendant of unlawfully importing marijuana and of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Defendant moved to suppress the marijuana. The district court granted the motion. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.


  • The appellate court held that the Fourth Amendment forbade the fuel tank search absent reasonable suspicion. 
  • The Supreme Court found that complex balancing tests to determine what was a "routine" search of a vehicle, as opposed to a more "intrusive" search of a person, had no place in border searches of vehicles. 
  • Searches made at the border were reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occurred at the border. 
  • It was difficult to imagine how the search of a gas tank, which should have been solely a repository for fuel, could have been more of an invasion of privacy than the search of the automobile's passenger compartment. 
  • A gas tank search involved a brief procedure that could have been reversed without damaging the safety or operation of the vehicle. 
  • While the interference with a motorist's possessory interest was not insignificant when the United States removed, disassembled, and reassembled his gas tank, it nevertheless was justified by the United States' paramount interest in protecting the border. 
  • The United States' authority to conduct suspicionless inspections at the border included the authority to remove, disassemble, and reassemble a vehicle's fuel tank.


The judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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