M.D.Fla.: No 4A protection for non-citizen stopped by CG at sea

A non-citizen on an unflagged boat at sea off Florida had no protection of the Fourth Amendment from a Coast Guard stop. In addition, the stop was based on reasonable suspicion merely from observation. United States v. Perez, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69761 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 12, 2021):

As the report and recommendation makes clear, the United States presented evidence as to the reasons the Coast Guard suspected wrongdoing. Among other things, the vessel was unmarked, flagless, and bore no identifying marks; it was painted blue; it was located far out at sea in an area commonly known for drug trafficking; there was no fishing equipment on board; and there were blue tarps covering its cargo. Taken as a whole, these factual circumstances support the reasonableness of the Coast Guard’s belief that defendants were engaged in drug smuggling. See, e.g., United States v. Meadows, 839 F.2d 1489, 1491 (11th Cir. 1988) (“While presence in a suspect area would not, in and of itself, justify a search, the location of the vessel was certainly a legitimate and important factor for the Coast Guard to consider. When a small vessel is found in an area where the typical traffic is involved in either fishing or drug-related activity, and that vessel lacks the usual earmarks of fishing activity, the Coast Guard may certainly be suspicious.”); United States v. Jaramillo Baque, 754 F. App’x 911, 914 (11th Cir. 2018) (vessel’s design and its structural modifications, high-rate of speed, unknown cargo packaged in square shaped bales, location several hundred miles offshore along a known drug-smuggling route and the lack of nationality or other identifying marks gave Coast Guard reasonable suspicion to stop and board the vessel).

That there was neither flight, jettisoning of cargo, other furtive behavior by defendants, or a noticeable smell of drugs—as Defendant points out—does not turn the Coast Guard’s suspicion into an unreasonable one. None of the cases cited in Defendant’s objections support his proposition that reasonable suspicion cannot exist in the absence of these factors. Additionally, the reasonableness of suspicion is not based on a consideration of each fact, viewed in isolation. Tinoco, 304 F.3d at 1116 (citing United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274 (2002)). Instead, the determination is made upon consideration of the totality of circumstances. Hunter, 291 F.3d at 1306. The magistrate did not err in finding that the circumstances encountered by the Coast Guard gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that defendants were engaged in illegal activity.

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