Unreasonable traffic search
When police set up traffic checkpoints ? looking for signs of drug use, walking a narcotics detecting dog around the car, and examining drivers? licenses and registration ? does that practice violate the Constitution?s protection against unreasonable searches?
From August to November of 1998, police in Indianapolis set up six traffic checkpoints to look for signs of illegal drugs transported on city streets. Officers stopped cars, checked each driver?s license and registration, looked for signs of drug-related impairment of drivers, and walked a drug-sniffing dog around the car. If the dog alerted, then the officers search the car. Drivers approaching the stops were warned with signs that said, ?Narcotics checkpoint ahead, narcotics K-9 in use, be prepared to stop.?
But two drivers who were stopped at the checkpoints, James Edmond and Joell Palmer, sued the city in federal court, claiming that the checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment?s protection against unreasonable searches. They argued that it was improper for police to stop cars without having any suspicion that the divers were violating any traffic or drug laws.
They lost in the trial court, which ruled that the stops were ?fairly non-intrusive? and that the city had a serious interest in catching drug users and traffickers. But a federal appeals panel reversed, agreeing with the drivers that the stops were unconstitutional. The panel found because the purpose of the roadblocks was to catch drug offenders, the police had to have suspicion that each car they stopped might be involved in a crime. General stops, it said, would be justified only if there were some urgent consideration of public safety, such as a belief that a car loaded with dynamite by a terrorist was on its way downtown.
The court drew a distinction with sobriety checkpoints, which courts have generally upheld, reasoning that they are not intended mainly to catch crooks but instead to protect other users of the road from drunk drivers.
The city now appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Because drugs are so easily concealed and transported in cars, the city has a substantial interest in using checkpoints to battle illegal drug use. And they proved themselves to be more effective than drunk driver checkpoints. Officers arrested 9 percent of all drivers stopped, and roughly half of those detained were for narcotics-related offenses.
The stops themselves are only minimally intrusive. Officers ask drivers for license and registration, look for signs of driver impairment, and escort a drug-sniffing dog around the outside of each car. Each stop lasts an average of two or three minutes. And when dogs merely sniff a car, that?s not a search. The intrusion is no worse than a drunk driver checkpoint.
The Justice Department
Federal agents conduct car checkpoints for a variety of purses. Border Patrol officers search for and seize illegal narcotics, because the smuggling of illegal aliens and drugs are often intermingled. Border Patrol dogs are trained to sniff out both concealed humans and drugs. Furthermore, the federal government has a substantial interest in efforts to curb drug trafficking on the public roads.
FOR JAMES EDMOND AND JOELL PALMER
While the courts have upheld sobriety checks and have allowed car checks at the border to deter illegal immigration, that doesn?t mean there?s a checkpoint exception to the Fourth Amendment. The courts have consistently held that when the purpose of a search or seizure is to discover evidence of a crime, the stop must be supported by some reason to think the law has been violated. And the stopping of a car at a roadblock is, courts have ruled, a seizure. But since the drug checkpoints are clearly designed to discover evidence of a crime, and since the stops are random and not based on any probable cause, they are unconstitutional.
The city essentially argues for an exception to the Fourth Amendment for drug checkpoints, because of the serious concerns that drugs pose in America today. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected that approach to search and seizure law, mostly recently when it refused to create a firearms exception to stop-and-frisk rules. Such exceptions would quickly undermine the core requirement than an officer act only when there?s cause to believe a crime has been committed.
I do not believe that having traffic checkpoints violates the Fourth Amendment. The city posted signs to warn people of the upcoming checkpoints, yet James Edmond and Joell Palmer still continued on there way. If they were caring narcotics with them they should be caught no matter what it takes! There are so many drugs in this country that if this is one way of catching another drug pusher and they are not bright enough to take an alternative route then they should be caught and prosecuted!!