Martinez-Medina v. Holder: Seizure of an Alien After Illegal Status is Admitted is Not a 4th Amendment Violation

Aug 16, 2010

The 9th Circuit court held that seizure of an alien by a state law enforcement officer after the alien admitted to being illegally present in the United States was not a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment warranting suppression of the alien’s statements at an immigration hearing.

Ladislao Martinez-Medina was stopped at a gas station in Oregon with several others because of his over-heated car. The gas station owner called the Sheriff’s Department and the deputy sheriff arrived shortly thereafter. He spoke with them briefly and asked if they had “green cards,” to which Martinez-Medina’s son, Oscar, replied that they did not. All of those present had understood this question to mean, ‘were they legally present in the United States?’ The deputy placed them in custody and said he was going to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Agent Warner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrived, spoke with some of the people in custody as well as with Martinez-Medina and Oscar. He asked them if they had green cards and subsequently took them into custody for a violation of immigration laws.

During the removal proceedings the Petitioners argued that their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. They moved to suppress Agent Warner’s testimony and other evidence from the hearing. The Immigration Judge concluded that the encounter became a search and seizure after the deputy sheriff asked the Petitioners about their immigration status and that this did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the deputy had probable cause to believe the petitioners were illegally present in the United States.

The Petitioners also argued that the deputy sheriff’s seizure was a violation of his statutory authority under Oregon law. The court concluded that it was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, even if it was assumed it was a state law violation. Also, the Court rejected the Petitioners’ claims that they were seized based solely on the fact that they were Hispanic. The Court ruled against this claim and held that the initial encounter was consensual and the seizure took place only after their illegal status was acknowledged.

This case is: Martinez-Medina v. Holder; 9th Cir. 06-75778.