- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
Supreme Court on Tuesday declared unconstitutional police roadblocks
set up to catch drug offenders, ruling they violate privacy rights of
- In an important victory for advocates of civil
the high court by a 6-3 vote ruled against Indianapolis,
where police had
erected the roadblocks to stop all motorists in an
effort to halt the flow
of illegal drugs through the city.
- Justice Sandra Day
O'Connor declared for the court majority
that the drug checkpoints
violated the constitutional guarantees under
the Fourth Amendment
protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures
- O'Connor said the ruling does not affect other roadblocks,
which the court has previously held to be constitutional, to detect
drivers and to intercept illegal immigrants being smuggled
across the U.S.
border by car.
- She said the court in the past
has suggested a roadblock
to verify drivers' licenses and registrations
would be permissible to serve
a highway safety interest.
- In the Indianapolis
roadblocks, officers check licenses
and vehicle registrations, examine
motorists for any signs of drug or alcohol
impairment and a
drug-sniffing dog walks around the outside of each stopped
detect illegal narcotics.
- The city sought to operate the checkpoints so that no
motorist was stopped for more than five minutes. In six roadblocks between
August and November 1998, more than 1,100 vehicles were stopped and 104
motorists were arrested -- half for drug offenses and half on other
- O'Connor wrote in the 15-page opinion that the court
approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect
evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.
- If the high level of generality
used to justify the drug
roadblocks was sufficient, there would be
little check on the police to
construct roadblocks for almost any
conceivable purpose, she said.
- Drug Problem Does Not Justify
- Further, the checkpoint program was not justified by
the severe, intractable nature of the drug program, O'Connor said.
- If the program were
justified by its secondary purpose
of keeping impaired motorists off
the road and verifying licenses and registrations,
would be able to establish checkpoints for virtually any
American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged
the drug roadblocks,
hailed the ruling.
- ``Today's decision sends a clear message that even a
conservative court is not willing to countenance the serious erosion of
our basic constitutional rights in the name of the war on drugs,'' said
Steven Shapiro, the group's national legal director.
- Chief Justice William Rehnquist
and Justices Clarence
Thomas and Antonin Scalia, the court's most
conservative members, dissented.
- ``These stops effectively serve
the state's legitimate
interests; they are executed in a regularized
and neutral manner; and they
only minimally intrude upon the privacy of
motorists,'' Rehnquist wrote.
- He said the program complied with prior high court
allowing roadblock seizures of automobiles and the addition of
a dog sniff
did not add to the length or intrusion of the stop.
- Rehnquist expressed
concern that sobriety and immigration
roadblocks ``may now be
challenged on the grounds that they have some concealed
- Justice Clarence Thomas said the previous rulings on
and immigration roadblocks compelled the upholding of the drug
- But Thomas questioned whether the prior rulings should
overturned. He said he doubted whether the authors of the Constitution
considered ``reasonable'' a program of indiscriminate stops of individuals
not suspected of wrongdoing.
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