SUPREME COURT to consider legality of minivan search in Arizona

Monday, June 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether a Border Patrol officer legally stopped a minivan that was spotted on roads used to circumvent checkpoints.

The search of the vehicle found 125 pounds of marijuana.

The case could help decide what factors an officer can use in deciding whether to stop and search a vehicle.

The defendant, Ralph Arvizu, whose vehicle was searched in 1998 near Douglas, Ariz., close to the Mexican border, pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that the officer lacked justification to search the vehicle. The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Border Patrol agent, Clinton Stoddard, gave 10 reasons for the stop, including Arvizu's use of poorly traveled roads often used to circumvent checkpoints.

Other factors included that the minivan slowed when it passed by the officer's car, the minivan's trip was timed to coincide with a patrol shift change, minivans often are used for drug smuggling, and two children in the back seat waved in a ``mechanical'' way without looking at Stoddard.

The appellate court dismissed most of the reasons and said others did not constitute reasonable suspicion for the stop.

The appellate court concluded that minivans, ``although sometimes used by smugglers, are among the best-selling family car models in the United States.''