Air Force Officer Challenges Suspicionless Roadblocks

March 14, 2016 in News by RBN Staff

The Newspaper
| 3/8/2016

Combat veteran asks US Supreme Court to stop arbitrary detention of motorists at immigration roadblocks. 

Richard Rynearson

The US Supreme Court will decide next week whether it will hear the appeal of a US Air Force major who was detained for more than half an hour at an immigration roadblock 67 miles from the border with Mexico. Richard Rynearson filed his last brief in the case, hoping that the high court’s eight justices would overturn the US Court of Appeals decision that endorsed Rynearson’s March 18, 2010 detention (view ruling).

“The two judge majority of the Fifth Circuit panel (both military veterans I’m ashamed to say) ruled that motorists can be stopped inside their country without suspicion of a crime, for as long as agents wish to hold them and without diligently pursuing the limited scope of the stop,” Rynearson explained on his blog. “All the legal mumbo jumbo aside, the Fifth Circuit simply ruled that government can violate the rights of any American it does not like.”

Six years ago, Rynearson had been driving on Highway 90 in Uvalde, Texas when he came across a Border Patrol checkpoint. Although he displayed his military ID and passport, the border agents became enraged with he declined to engage with them any further. Border Patrol Captain Raul Perez went so far as to call Laughlin Air Force Base to complain to Rynearson’s superior. A video of the incident is available on YouTube (view video). Now Rynearson wants Perez and the other agents to be held accountable for their actions, based on a series of past Supreme Court rulings.

“To uphold the detention, the Fifth Circuit created a new category of justification for extending these no-suspicion detentions: investigation of a detainee’s ‘unorthodox’ behavior, which may also be labeled ‘atypical’ or ‘unusual,’ but does not raise suspicion of criminal activity,” Rynearson lawyer J. Carl Cecere wrote to the high court. “There is no basis for this new broad, standardless, and impermissible sort of detention. Unsurprisingly, the Fifth Circuit’s rule creates intractable conflicts with this court’s precedents and the established rules governing checkpoint detentions in other circuits.”

In a number of instances, the Supreme Court has emphasized that motorists not suspected of wrong doing should only be briefly detained, no longer than is absolutely necessary. Because Rynearson’s detention was not based on probable cause or consent, it violated Rynearson’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, Cecere argued.

“Each of the ad hoc justifications the Fifth Circuit came up with to justify this 34-minute suspicionless detention creates a regime under which an agent’s arbitrary desire to investigate a detainee’s atypical — but admittedly not criminal — behavior overrides strict limits on the permissible scope of a suspicionless immigration detention,” Cecere wrote.

If the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, the Fifth Circuit decision will stand as final.