Pubdate: Tue, 16 Apr 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Anne Gearan


WASHINGTON -- There's little room to move around on a Greyhound bus, which 
is one reason that two men caught ferrying drugs say they didn't feel free 
to get up and leave when police stood over them in the aisle and started 
asking questions.

Government prosecutors says Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown were not 
under arrest and could have either left their seats or ignored the 
officers' questions. Their case comes before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, 
where justices could use it to define better the rights of passengers 
aboard public transportation.

The court said it will decide whether police who want to look for drugs or 
evidence of other crimes must first must inform passengers of their legal 

Drayton and Brown won a lower court ruling that the 1999 drug sweep aboard 
a bus in Tallahassee, Fla., violated their constitutional protection 
against unreasonable searches.

The Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the 
officers did nothing wrong.

"The officers showed no weapons, spoke politely and quietly with the 
passengers, and said nothing that might convey the message that cooperation 
was mandatory," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote in court papers.

Three officers boarded the bus, bound for Detroit from Fort Lauderdale. One 
officer knelt backward in the driver's seat, facing the passengers. The 
other two worked their way from the back of the bus forward, asking 
passengers about their travel plans and about their luggage.

An officer introduced himself to Drayton and Brown, and told them he was 
looking for illegal drugs and weapons. Drayton and Brown agreed to let 
officers search a bag in the overhead luggage rack, and it yielded no drugs 
or weapons.

Police then asked to pat down the men's baggy clothing. The men agreed, and 
officers felt hard objects on the men's legs that turned out to be packets 
of cocaine.

Both men were arrested and convicted of drug charges.

"A reasonable passenger could not ignore the 'in your face' show of 
authority which officers employed in this case," lawyers for Drayton and 
Brown wrote.

"The officers chose and exploited a coercive environment in which they knew 
they were most likely to get the consent they sought."

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is supporting the men, 
while Americans for Effective Law Enforcement and other groups back the 

The Supreme Court previously has ruled that police questioning aboard buses 
is not necessarily more coercive just because a passenger may have little 
room to move about. That ruling left some aspects of the police-passenger 
exchange in limbo, including the question of whether officers should always 
tell passengers that they have the right to refuse to cooperate.

On appeal in this case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the 
cocaine should not have been admitted as evidence, because the officers 
failed to give such a warning or otherwise inform the men of their rights.

The encounter violated the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and 
seizures, in part because the men did not feel free to leave, the court said.

The government argued that the appeals court's view threatens a common law 
enforcement tactic and conflicts with other federal appeals courts.

The Bush administration also has invoked the war on terrorism as a reason 
the high court should reassert police power in similar situations.

"In the current environment, (such searches) may ... become an important 
part of preventing other forms of criminal activity that involve travel on 
the nation's system of public transportation," Olson wrote.

The case is United States v. Drayton, 01-631.

On the Net: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case:
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