Tags: Supreme | Court | Rejects | Drug | Checkpoints

Supreme Court Rejects Drug Checkpoints

Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM

The 6-3 decision strikes down an Indianapolis policy in which police randomly stopped vehicles going into drug-infested neighborhoods for inspection by drug-sniffing dogs.

Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said: "The Fourth Amendment requires that searches and seizures be reasonable. A search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing."

O'Connor conceded that in the past the Supreme Court has upheld "brief, suspicionless seizures of motorists at a fixed Border Patrol checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens … and at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road. …."

The high court has also upheld "a similar type of roadblock with the purpose of verifying driver's licenses and vehicle registrations."

She added, "In none of these cases, however, did we indicate approval of a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing."

The Supreme Court's three consistent conservatives – Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – dissented.

Rehnquist said the only difference between those random stops approved by the majority and those declared unconstitutional was the addition of a drug-sniffing dog. Scalia joined fully in the chief justice's dissent, but Thomas only partly agreed, and wrote separately in dissent.

Thomas, in surprising language for a traditional ally of Rehnquist and Scalia, said he was unsure if the Supreme Court precedents allowing drunk-driving or driver's-license stops "were correctly decided. Indeed, I rather doubt that the Framers of the Fourth Amendment would have considered 'reasonable' a program of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of wrongdoing."

In other words, Thomas questioned the constitutionality of all such stops.

But he added in his short dissent that the case before the Supreme Court did not address those precedents, and so he was forced to join Rehnquist in disagreeing with the majority.

In the case decided Tuesday, law enforcement officers blocked a predetermined number of vehicles going into drug-infested neighborhoods in Indianapolis. One officer checked the licenses and registrations of those drivers stopped. At the same time another officer led a drug-sniffing dog around each stopped vehicle. If the dog signaled the presence of drugs, officers believed they had "probable cause" to search a vehicle without a warrant.

Indianapolis conducted six such roadblocks between August and November 1998, when the courts shut them down. Police stopped 1,161 vehicles and arrested 55 people on narcotics offenses and 49 for other crimes.

Two drivers who were stopped at Indianapolis drug checkpoints in 1998 filed a class-action suit against the city and city officials in federal court. The men, James Edmond and Joell Palmer, were not charged with drug offenses, but they contended that the stops were unconstitutional.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution bans "unreasonable searches and seizures," among other things.

Though a federal judge ruled the drug roadblocks were constitutional – citing those Supreme Court decisions that allowed stops to search for illegal aliens and to check for sobriety – a divided federal appeals court eventually ruled for the men, saying that law enforcement must have some reason to believe criminal activity has taken place if officers are going to stop a vehicle for a criminal investigation.

The city then asked the Supreme Court for review.

Tuesday's decision "affirms" or upholds the appeals court decision.

(No. 99-1030, Indianapolis vs. Edmond et al.)

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The 6-3 decision strikes down an Indianapolis policy in which police randomly stopped vehicles going into drug-infested neighborhoods for inspection by drug-sniffing dogs. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said: The Fourth Amendment requires that...
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2000-00-28
Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM
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