According to the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This means that law enforcement officers must have a signed search warrant supported by probable cause that a crime has been committed. The search warrant also must outline the places to be searched and the people or things to be seized. They cannot enter the subject’s home for any reason; they must strongly believe the subject has been, is, or will be a participant to a crime. The Coast Guard officers had no reason to suspect that Sanchez and his companions were engaged in any illicit behaviors or crimes. Therefore they had no reason to detain them in the first place.
Typically speaking, Fourth Amendment protections are lower in border crossings or official ports of entry. The Court of Appeals ruled the harbor where Sanchez had sailed out from is not an official port of entry, and therefore the Fourth Amendment protections commended on all American citizens were in the fullest effect. The Coast Guard officers didn’t even bother to ask whether the boat left international waters in the first place; they only asked Sanchez what his name was and where he lived.
The Court’s ruling is a big victory to outspoken critics of racial profiling by law enforcement.