Hernandez v. Mesa

On June 7, 2010, Jesus Mesa Jr., a U.S. Border Patrol agent, shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca in the cement culvert separating Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. At the time of the shooting, Hernández Güereca, a 15-year-old Mexican boy, was standing on the Mexican side of the Mexico–United States border, while the agent was on the American side. The agent claimed after the shooting that he had used deadly force because Hernández Güereca had been throwing rocks at him. Cell phone video contradicted that claim.[1]

Hernandez v. Mesa
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 12, 2019
Full case nameJesus C. Hernandez, et al. v. Jesus Mesa Jr., et al.
Docket no.17-1678
ArgumentOral argument
Case history
  • Motion to dismiss granted, Hernandez v. United States, 802 F. Supp. 2d 834 (W.D. Tex. 2011);
  • Affirmed in part, reversed in part, 757 F.3d 249 (5th Cir. 2014);
  • Rehearing en banc granted, 771 F.3d 818 (5th Cir. 2014);
  • Dismissal affirmed on rehearing en banc, 785 F.3d 117 (5th Cir. 2015);
  • Cert. granted, sub. nom., Hernandez v. Mesa, 137 S. Ct. 291 (2016);
  • Vacated and remanded, Hernandez v. Mesa, No. 15-118, 582 U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 2003 (2017);
  • Dismissal affirmed on remand, 885 F.3d 811 (5th Cir. 2018);
  • Cert. granted, 139 S. Ct. 2636 (2019);
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh

The shooting has led to a protracted court case known as Hernandez v. Mesa, which has examined whether the due process clause of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected Hernández Güereca's life even though he was not standing on U.S. soil, and whether Mesa could claim qualified immunity for his actions as a U.S. law enforcement officer.[2][3][4][5] The case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court twice, in February 2017 and November 2019, and awaits the release of a decision.

Court proceedingsEdit

The Mexican government indicted Mesa for murder for the killing, but the U.S. refused to extradite him to Mexico.[1][6] The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the incident, but declined to prosecute Mesa.[6]

Hernández Güereca's parents alleged that Mesa's actions violated his civil rights under the Fourth and Fifth amendments, and filed a claim citing the Bivens precedent, a 1971 Supreme Court case that established an implied cause of action for violations of civil rights by federal agents.[6] The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas initially dismissed the case.[7] However, a panel of judges for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Hernández Güereca had 5th Amendment rights, and that these rights had been violated when Mesa killed him.[8] The panel further said that Mesa could not claim qualified immunity for his actions, as "no reasonable officer would have understood Agent Mesa's alleged conduct to be lawful."[9] There was then a rehearing by the full panel en banc in the Fifth Circuit, which reversed the prior panel and unanimously reaffirmed the District Court's dismissal of the case, saying that regardless of whether Hernández Güereca had 5th Amendment rights or not, Mesa was entitled to qualified immunity because he could not have been aware that his actions would not qualify for immunity under the circumstances, since there had not been prior case law to settle the issue.[10][6][9]

The case was then heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2017. In June 2017, the Supreme Court reversed part of the Court of Appeals's ruling and requested reconsideration by the Court of Appeals to address Hernández Güereca's claim of 4th Amendment rights[6] and the impact of another Supreme Court decision that was reached at about the same time in the case of Ziglar v. Abbasi.[1][11][9][clarification needed] Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissent, as did Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thomas said he would have restricted the application of the prior rulings to not apply to cross-border actions and would have simply affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals.[9] Breyer and Ginsburg said that since the incident occurred in a border zone of overlapping jurisdiction in which both governments had a management responsibility, and since Mesa also could not have known for certain whether Hernández Güereca was a U.S. citizen or not, his actions should be judged as if they had occurred within the United States.[9] Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case, as he had joined the court after the case was heard.

The Court of Appeals then again upheld the dismissal of the case by the lower court.[12][1]

The case reached the Supreme Court for a second time in November 2019.[1] On behalf of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief arguing that such actions of border agents should be immune from liability even if the entire incident had clearly occurred within the United States "ten miles from the border".[6] The Mexican government filed an amicus brief saying that failing to provide an effective remedy when fundamental rights were violated would undermine U.S. human rights obligations, saying that "A nation's obligations to respect human rights do not stop at its borders but apply anywhere that the nation exercises effective control."[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Marimow, Ann E. (November 12, 2019). "Supreme Court seems wary of allowing families of slain Mexican teens to sue U.S. border agents". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  2. ^ Preston, Julia (June 30, 2014). "Texas: Panel Rules Agent Can Be Sued Over Shooting Teenager Across Border". The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
  3. ^ "Court: Mexican family can sue over fatal Border Patrol shooting". Fox News. July 2, 2014. Archived from the original on July 9, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
  4. ^ "Mexican teenager killed by US Border Patrol agents had rights, court rules". The Guardian. Associated Press. July 1, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
  5. ^ Inskeep, Steve (June 9, 2014). "After Shootings, Extended Silence: What The Border Patrol Hasn't Said". NPR. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Sibilla, Nick (November 13, 2019). "Border Agents Shouldn't Get Sued For Shooting Foreigners, Trump Administration Tells Supreme Court". Forbes. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  7. ^ Hernandez v. United States, 802 F. Supp. 2d 834 (W.D. Tex. 2011).
  8. ^ Hernandez v. United States, 757 F.3d 249 (5th Cir. 2014).
  9. ^ a b c d e Hernandez v. Mesa, No. 15-118, 582 U.S. ___, 137 S. Ct. 2003 (2017).
  10. ^ Hernandez v. United States, 785 F.3d 117 (5th Cir. 2015).
  11. ^ "Supreme Court seems split over Mexican teen's shooting death by Border Patrol agent". CBS. Associated Press. February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  12. ^ Hernandez v. Mesa, 885 F.3d 811 (5th Cir. 2018).

External linksEdit