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March 22, 2008

Court: Rutherford Deputy Did Not Have Right To Detain Illegal Immigrant

Posted in: Pro-Illegal Groups, Law enforcement

The Tennessean

A three-judge panel has ruled that a Rutherford County Sheriff’s deputy unreasonably detained an illegal immigrant during a traffic stop.

The ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means that three guns and several fake identification cards found during a subsequent search cannot be used as evidence.

In August 2006, Jose Eduardo Urrieta was moving across the country with his girlfriend and her teenage son in a packed car that was towing a second packed car, according to the decision.

Deputy Lee Young pulled over Urrieta after observing him swerve between lanes on Interstate 24. Young started following Urrieta and noticed that his tags had expired and the taillights on the towed car did not work, so he pulled him over.

Urrieta provided a Mexican driver’s license, but Young mistakenly told him he could not drive in Tennessee unless he also had a valid passport. Lee instructed Urrieta to search his packed cars to find his passport.

In the meantime, Young consulted a federal database to try to determine whether Urrieta was illegally in the country. The database had no information on Urrieta, which suggested that he was an illegal immigrant. However, it also confirmed that he had not been previously deported and then re-entered the U.S., the only immigration violation Young had the authority to enforce.

Rather than cite Urrieta and let him continue on his way, Young called for backup, stating that he wanted to search the cars. Then he began to question Urrieta about his immigration status, moving plans, job and criminal history.

Urrieta gave the deputy permission to search his vehicles. He was later indicted for being an illegal immigrant in possession of firearms and for the possession of unlawful identification documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Hannafan, representing Young, argued that Urrieta’s detention and the subsequent search that turned up the guns and fake documents were justified because Young suspected Urrieta of running drugs. He claimed that the suspicion was reasonable because, among other things, Urrieta was dishonest about his immigration status.

The district court sided with Young, determining that Urrieta’s general dishonesty provided a reasonable suspicion that he might be illegally transporting drugs.

The appeals court disagreed, finding in a Thursday ruling that Young had no good reason to believe Urrieta was transporting drugs. Because of that, his detention violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

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