Pubdate: Wed, 06 Dec 2000
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)


Society needs to be protected from criminals, but it also needs to be 
protected from the police who act as agents of the government.

An efficient way to control crime is to give the police unlimited powers.

Police states, whether they operate under right-wing dictators or left-wing 
totalitarian regimes, efficiently control crime, but they do so at the 
expense of individual liberties.

 From its founding, the United States has always cherished individual 
liberties, even when this basic principle made the job of law enforcement 
officers more difficult.

The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this important principle when it 
ruled that the Indianapolis police did not have the right to set up 
roadblocks on city streets in an effort to combat illegal drugs.

There is little doubt that the roadblocks are an easy and effective way to 
nab suspects. But roadblocks also intruded upon the privacy and individual 
liberties of citizens not involved with illegal drugs.

In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court barred 
routine traffic stops used as a drug-fighting tactic.

The tactic worked. Indianapolis police used the roadblocks about six times 
in 1998. They stopped more than 1,100 vehicles.

Drug-sniffing dogs smelled around the vehicles. If the dogs indicated that 
they smelled drugs, the police would order a search.

In all, Indianapolis police made more than 100 arrests for drug-related 
crimes. That's the good part. The bad part is that to make 100 arrests, 
1,000 innocent citizens were treated as criminal suspects.

The court properly ruled that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment 
requirement that searches and seizures be reasonable. Individual citizens 
need to be suspected of a crime before police can conduct searches.

The court failed to add clarity to the exceptions it has allowed such as 
roadblocks to check for drunken driving or to check for illegal aliens 
along borders.

Those exceptions were allowed to protect the public from immediate risks 
caused by drunken drivers and to maintain the nation's border integrity.

The court made a good decision to not expand these exceptions to include 
drug roadblocks. If vehicle stops were permitted, police could expand that 
exception to include stopping pedestrians as they walk down the street and 
anywhere they gather in public.

Justice O'Connor was right when she spoke for the 6-3 majority and said, 
"stops can only be justified by some quantum of individualized suspicion." 
Otherwise, she wisely warned, "the Fourth Amendment would do little to 
prevent such intrusions from becoming a routine part of American life."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart