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Name: U.S. v. Molina-Tarazon
Case #: 00-50171
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 01/29/2002
Subsequent History: None

Molina entered the United States from Mexico, and stopped at a Customs checkpoint. A drug-sniffing dog failed to alert to his truck, but the Border Patrol officer removed and dismantled the fuel tank of the vehicle based on “unnatural mud patterns” observed on the gas tank. The officer found 31 packages of marijuana inside the tank. Here, the appellate court affirmed the denial of a suppression motion. The use of force required to remove the tank, coupled with the potential danger associated with driving a vehicle which has been dismantled and reassembled, and the subsequent diminution in the driver’s sense of security, resulted in a significant degree of intrusiveness and rendered the search “non-routine.” However, although the border search exception authorizes only routine searches; a search that goes beyond routine may be justified by a reasonable suspicion that the person to be searched may be carrying contraband. Here, the officers’ observations concerning the mud patterns on the gas tank’s sensing unit, (which was “too clean” in relation to the rest of the tank), provided reasonable suspicion to dismantle the tank.