Border Patrol officers in San Clemente intercepted $6.7 million of cocaine at a freeway checkpoint last week when a man claiming to be a U.S. citizen was stopped. The 54-year-old man was nicely dressed in a suit and tie and driving a relatively new automobile but there was something about him, or the car, that caused the border agents to be suspicious.
If anyone has ever gone through one of these border checkpoints, you know that most of the time you are just waived through. Occasionally you are stopped briefly and asked where you are coming from, where you are going, and if you have any produce in your car. Apparently this is all they need to decide whether or not they want to investigate further. The Border Patrol agents at checkpoints can stop and question anyone even if there is no reason to believe that there are any illegal aliens inside. The United States Supreme Court determined this. It was further ruled that the Border Patrol agents “have wide discretion” to request that the car, and the occupants, pull over to another inspection area for further questioning.
In this particular situation, when the man told the officers that he was a citizen, apparently they were suspicious and ran a record check. This revealed that he was actually a Mexican national and arrested him. This was all they needed to be able to then search his car. The search revealed several large cardboard boxes in both the backseat and trunk of the car. The large cardboard boxes in the back seat may have been what brought attention to the man and caused suspicion. It was discovered that 53 packages of cocaine were inside the boxes, which was estimated to weigh approximately 670 pounds. On the street, that would be worth around $6.7 million.
At first glance, it appears that this man is in very serious legal trouble. Because the border patrol agents have such “wide discretion”, there is not much to challenge in the way of illegal stop or search. However, under other circumstances, were he not stopped at the border checkpoint, there would need to have been a reason to stop him in the first place. Further, after stopping him, there would then have to be probable cause to search the car. The officers would need probable cause to pull over and then eventually search the car. If it could be proven that the officers had no probable cause to stop and then search, the evidence would have to be thrown out due to the illegal stop and search.
Let’s look at this situation another way. What if this man needed to get to the United States to visit a sick relative but had no car. A friend of his offers to let him borrow his car if he will take a few boxes to a family member of his in the United States. The man agrees and is later stopped and arrested for drug smuggling. There are a couple of defenses that may be raised. One being that he had no knowledge of what was in the car. He assumed it was just something his friend wanted to be taken to a family member and didn’t even think twice about questioning what it was. In that situation, as well as no knowledge, there would have been no intent to transport or sell the drugs.
Illegal search and seizure, police misconduct, entrapment, mistake in identity are all defenses that might be explored in a case like this. Unfortunately for the man who was stopped at the border, these defenses may not apply. However, lack of knowledge and intent should certainly be explored.
Transportation of drugs, which simply means moving them from one place to another, regardless of the distance, is a felony. However, transporting drugs over the border is a federal offense and is handled at the federal level.
If you would like to know more about the consequences and punishments to drug trafficking or possession of narcotics for sale, please visit my page on drug related offenses.