A large amount of criminal activity happens at authorized border crossings. In short, the wandering eye of a proactive inspector, the nose of the dog, and the memory of the computer often lead to search and seizures. If people appear suspicious, have crossed the border often, or are just unlucky that day, a Border Patrol Agent has authority to pull citizens over for "secondary inspection.” Also, if someone’s name has ever entered Customs databases for any suspicious reason, odds are Customs will pull you over. If you are near the border, there are certain clues that law enforcement looks for. Multiple people in a rental car or pickup truck, particularly at night, are almost certain to be stopped. Hockey bags are viewed as suspicious. Once suspected, an individual is under the authority to consent to a search. Without a warrant, or even a shadow of a suspicion, the police at the border can do the following:
Increased security in the wake of the September 11 attacks make the odds of getting searched even greater. At remote crossings Border Patrol Agents use wireless remote sensors to detect persons and vehicles. If you set off a sensor, it will relay your whereabouts to Border Patrol Agent in the vicinity.
You will be stopped and searched by Border Patrol Agents if you are seen by an officer who has reasonable suspicion that you either unlawfully crossed the border and/or smuggled contraband. They may perform a “Terry Stop” under the landmark case Terry v. Ohio, if an officer has an “articulable” suspicion that crime is afoot. Once stopped, of course, the officer will find a way to develop "probable cause" to search you, and that's it.
Fortunately, there are defenses to this manner of search and seizure. For example, if the chain has been interrupted -- if you have stopped and let someone or something in or out of the vehicle, then that Terry v. Ohio authority evaporates. Probable cause is then required to search you; which is a higher standard than reasonable articulable suspicion under Terry v. Ohio.
And then, of course, there is the legal question of boats crossing the border. As a practical matter, boats can be stopped, boarded and searched virtually anywhere, for any reason. In navigable waters, a Coast Guard "safety" inspection can be conducted at the whim of the officers. Contact our attorneys at (360) 671-8500 for a free consultation.