Pubdate: Fri, 06 Oct 2000
Source: Athens Daily News (GA)
Copyright: 2000 Athens Newspapers Inc.
Address: PO Box 912, Athens, GA 30603
Fax: 706-208-2246


Everyone expects law enforcement to keep our streets safe from drunken 
drivers and to fight the use and distribution of illegal drugs. But should 
that protection come by any means necessary? Is fighting crime worth 
sacrificing the rights of privacy and freedom from illegal searches 
guaranteed by the Constitution?

These are questions the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering as it 
determines whether drug-search roadblocks orchestrated by Indianapolis 
police in 1998 are constitutional. On Tuesday, the court heard arguments in 
this case which pits privacy rights against the interests of law 
enforcement and is expected to issue a ruling by June.

In 1998, Indianapolis police pulled over cars at random in high-crime 
neighborhoods, questioned motorists, and led a drug-sniffing dog around the 
car's exterior and sometimes inside the car. The majority of the 1,161 
motorists detained were innocent. Police arrested 104 people -- 55 of which 
were on drug charges.

The court must decide whether the Indianapolis roadblocks are comparable to 
the accepted use of border roadblocks to find illegal immigrants or random 
DUI checkpoints. Or, were the police using the roadblocks to investigate 
people for criminal drug activity without having any reason to suspect 

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches or seizures and 
protects individuals from indiscriminate questioning by police.

In DUI checkpoints, an officer must rely on his own senses to determine 
whether a driver is intoxicated -- a method that is allowed under the 
Fourth Amendment. However, the drug-search roadblocks involved officers 
using a drug-sniffing dog as a tool for detecting drugs that couldn't be 
found with just the officer's senses.

Similar roadblocks have been conducted in other cities and, if sanctioned 
by the Supreme Court, could flourish and become a common investigation 
method for police.

This isn't the first time an investigative method by the police has raised 
our concern. Recent news reports about the popularity of a flashlight that 
contains a hidden alcohol detector among police departments across the 
country also raised some questions about invasion of privacy and illegal 
searches. When an officer pulls a car over he or she can hold the 
flashlight in front of the driver and get a reading of whether there are 
traces of alcohol on the driver's breath. Unlike traditional Breathalyzer 
tests, the flashlight breath test is done without the driver's knowledge.

Similar to the drug-sniffing dogs, this device goes beyond the "plain sight 
doctrine" that allows the police to use their own senses to judge whether 
someone has been involved in criminal activity. The constitutionality of 
the "Sniffer" flashlight has not been tested in court, but it probably 
should be.

We believe both these methods constitute illegal searches and cannot be 
condoned. Allowing this level of random investigation by police should be 
of concern to anyone who values the protections afforded by the 
Constitution. This isn't far from allowing the police to be able to stop 
and question anyone who just happens to be walking down the street 
regardless of whether there is probable cause or reason to suspect that the 
person is engaged in criminal activity.

Despite concerns about the damage drunken driving and illicit drug activity 
can cause to our communities, it is wrong for police to conduct searches 
without probable cause and allowing them to take place undermines the 
Constitution. The ends do not justify the means. We want law enforcement 
officers to fight crimes, but they have to do it without stomping on 
freedoms in the process.
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