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Ninth Circuit Enjoins Arizona’s Race-Based Traffic Stops

In September, 2012, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s December 2011 order granting preliminary injunctive relief to a class of “Latino persons” who contended that Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff’s Department officials were conducting racially discriminatory traffic stops under the pretext of enforcing immigration laws.

The plaintiffs filed suit in 2007 alleging that they were being unlawfully targeted, stopped, questioned, searched, and/or detained pursuant to a Sheriff’s Department policy or practice of racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops, in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Based on the defendants’ assertion of authority to detain persons they believe are not authorized to be in the country “based only upon a reasonable suspicion, without more, that the person is not legally present in the United States,” the district court granted preliminary injunctive relief to the plaintiffs, finding that they were likely to prevail on their Fourth Amendment claim.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the Fourth Amendment does not permit a stop or detention based solely on unlawful presence in the United States, since that is “only a civil violation” and not a crime. Noting that the injunction did not prevent defendants from detaining individuals “when officers have reasonable suspicion that [those] individuals are violating a state criminal law,” the Ninth Circuit rejected defendants’ suggestion that the inunction somehow impaired their ability to enforce the law. See: de Jesus Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990 (9th Cir. 2012).

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Related legal case

de Jesus Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio