“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Fourth Circuit judge Marvin Quattlebaum wrote an opinion upholding the stop and frisk of an immigrant despite the absence of reasonable suspicion that he had re-entered the US illegally. The July 2020 decision is US v. Santiago-Francisco.
Federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the State Department were investigating two individuals in West Virginia for immigration violations. Their search led them to an address in Clarksburg where they thought they could find the two individuals. It turned out that neither of them was there, but the agents learned about two other people staying there, Mateo Delunas and Javier Rosario-Azamar, who had previously had “immigration encounters.” Rosario-Azamar had previously been deported to Mexico.
One morning, the federal agents were watching the house with local police and saw Rosario-Azamar get into a car with three other men. Claiming later that he believed that Rosario-Azamar was violating a federal law that banned illegal reentry into the US, agent Christopher Holmes instructed local police officers to stop the car and order all the passengers to exit. They did and were questioned and patted down for weapons. Although no weapons were found, authorities learned that one of the occupants, Guillermo Santiago-Francisco, admitted not having the necessary documentation to live and work in the US. After a search which Francisco consented to, police found and charged him with possessing fraudulent identification documents.
Francisco sought to have the results of the search suppressed by challenging the constitutionality of the initial stop and frisk. He contended that although authorities knew that Azamar had been deported, they did not have articulable facts on which to base their suspicion that he had illegally re-entered the US, which was their reason for stopping the car.
The trial court rejected the contention and Quattlebaum affirmed in a 2-1 decision for the Fourth Circuit. Quattlebaum agreed that to justify a stop and frisk without a warrant, police must be able to point to “specific and articulable facts” that give rise to a “reasonable suspicion” of ongoing criminal activity based on the “totality of the circumstances.” Based on information from the ICE agent that Azamar had previously been deported and had “immigration encounters,” Quattlebaum concluded that Holmes had “sufficient reasonable suspicion to stop the car” in which Azamar was a passenger.
Judge James Wynn strongly dissented. There was no question that the agents knew that Azamar had previously been deported, he explained, but there was nothing in the “scant factual record” that provided “specific and articulable facts” to support the suspicion that he had re-entered the country illegally. The “reasonable suspicion” determination, Wynn continued, “rests on a single inference: that because a person was previously deported, their presence in the United States suggests that they are here improperly.”
It is certainly possible that a person who was previously deported then came back to the US legally, Wynn noted, and judicial precedent “shows the dangers of using a prior deportation to support ‘reasonable’ suspicion.” Wynn pointed out that the courts have made clear that a prior criminal conviction is not sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion, and “[t]hat is what happened here,” even though a deportation is technically a civil and not a criminal proceeding. “[U]nder the majority’s reasoning,” Wynn continued, “individuals may be subject to suspicionless stops for the rest of their lives simply because they were once subject to a civil deportation order.”
That is precisely the danger created by Quattlebaum’s opinion. The result is not only to harm Azamar and Francisco, but also to endanger the rights of anyone in this country who has previously been deported.