Pubdate: Tue, 10 Oct 2000
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas


It was a busy first week for the Supreme Court. Returning to a docket 
peppered with search-and-seizure cases, the justices have a prime 
opportunity to inject clarity into their Fourth Amendment analysis.

Two of the cases before the court last week were City of Indianapolis vs. 
Edmond, which questions the constitutionality of having an anti-narcotics 
dog sniff around the perimeter of a car stopped at a police roadblock; and 
Ferguson vs. City of Charleston, which looks at the legality of a hospital 
program that checked pregnant women for cocaine use and turned positive 
tests over to the police for potential prosecution.

Recent jurisprudence in this area is all over the map, with the court 
advancing arguments both protective and restrictive of the police.

In oral arguments before the court, several justices expressed concern 
about the use of drug-sniffing dogs in Indianapolis but seemed to back off 
that criticism when the search was put into the context of a general 
license and registration check. The court has grappled with what 
expectation of privacy a motorist enjoys, creating a series of seemingly 
contradictory standards.

The Indianapolis case is an overly broad attempt to combat drugs. 
Widespread, random searches without reason are untenable, however admirable 
the law enforcement impetus is. The court should reject the city's argument.

The Charleston case is equally troubling, involving medical officials in 
law enforcement. Although the tests were ostensibly to protect an unborn 
fetus, which under South Carolina law is considered a person after 24 
weeks, many women were checked after giving birth, nullifying any 
protective purpose.

Doctors and nurses should not be turned into criminal investigators. Test 
the women, and urge them to attend drug counseling. But turning hospitals 
into police precincts will simply deter women from getting the medical help 
that they and their unborn children so desperately need.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager