Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Alfaro-Moncada: Ok to Border Search Cabin Without Reasonable Suspicion

In U.S. v. Alfaro-Moncada, No. 08-16442 (May 27, 2010), the Court held that a search of the cabin of a crew member of a foreign cargo vessel did not violate the Fourth Amendment, even though the Agricultural Enforcement Team that boarded the ship to inspect for prohibited agricultural materials had no reasonable suspicion regarding the contents of the cabin. The Court therefore affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress the child pornography DVDs that were found in the crew member’s cabin.

The Court noted that the search was a “border search” because the ship was docked after traveling three miles up the Miami River. The Court noted the heightened national interest in searching for agricultural contraband coming into the United States, citing the “extensive damage” caused by pests and diseases once they enter the country. The Court further stated that “any expectation of privacy a crew member has in his living quarters is weaker when those quarters are brought to the border of this country.”

The Court also rejected the argument that the admission of five still images of child pornography was unduly prejudicial, when Alfaro-Moncada had stipulated that the DVDs actually contained child pornography. The Court noted that the jury was shown only five images out of 4,650 on the DVDs.