Pubdate: Wed, 29 Nov 2000
Source: Journal Gazette (IN)
Copyright: 2000 Journal Gazette
Contact:  600 W. Main Street, Ft. Wayne, IN. 46802
Fax: (219) 461-8648
Author: Sylvia A. Smith, Washington editor


WASHINGTON - Indianapolis police were out of bounds when they used
drug-sniffing dogs and traffic roadblocks to randomly check motorists for
illegal drugs, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, ending a practice embraced
by some police agencies but shunned by others, including in Fort Wayne and
Allen County.

"What this does is reaffirm what the founders said in regard to searches and
seizures, and that is that you gotta have some cause for doing it. And the
cause can't simply be that you happen to live in or be driving through the
wrong neighborhood," said John Krull, executive director of the Indiana
Civil Liberties Union.

Writing for the six-member majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the
checkpoints amounted to an illegal search and seizure, which is a violation
of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment states:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the
person or thing to be seized."

Two Hoosiers went to court after they were stopped by a dragnet in 1998
while dogs roamed outside their cars, sniffing for cocaine, heroin and other
illegal drugs. Drugs were not found in either driver's car.

The practice was initially ruled legal by a state court, but when a federal
appeals court said the Indianapolis program was "a pretext for a dragnet
search for criminals" and is unconstitutional, Indianapolis took the case to
the Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Indianapolis argued that there's not much difference between
drunken-driving roadblocks and drug roadblocks, and that the minor
inconvenience they cause drivers is worth it if drug dealers are snagged.

They argued that because drug dealers usually distribute their goods by car,
it should be legal to stop cars randomly near areas that are known to be the
locations for drug deals.

However, several justices asked the Indianapolis attorneys whether that
logic could quickly justify stopping pedestrians just because they happen to
be in a high-crime area.

"People sometimes rob banks on foot," said one justice. "Bank robbers
perhaps are poor; they can't afford cars. They walk around. ... So do we
stop all the pedestrians?"

Three justices said the checkpoints were legal.

"Efforts to enforce the law on public highways used by millions of motorists
are obviously necessary to our society," Chief Justice William Rehnquist
wrote. "The court's opinion today casts a shadow over what has been assumed
... to be a perfectly lawful activity."

In the opinion, O'Connor said other police roadblocks - for illegal
immigrants or drunken driving, for instance - are legal. However, the
Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that sobriety checkpoints violate the
state's constitution.

Indianapolis conducted six roadblocks in 1998 before suspending them until
the lawsuits were resolved. At the same time, Fort Wayne and Allen County
police teamed up to operate a random drug roadblock once. But then-Mayor
Paul Helmke stopped it when he learned of it.

"In our zeal to fight crime and drugs, we have to remember there's a Bill of
Rights," Helmke said Tuesday. "We could send the police door to door and
find drug dealers, but that's not the way to go about that. That's where the
Constitution comes in. You have a right to privacy."

The current police leadership - Allen County Sheriff Jim Herman and Fort
Wayne Police Chief Rusty York - disapprove of the roadblocks.

"I'm pleased to know that the higher courts came to that opinion," the Rev.
Michael Latham, president of Fort Wayne's NAACP chapter, said of the court's

Karen Balsley of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.
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