12/20/2005

Group files appeal in NYC subway bag search case

By LARRY NEUMEISTER
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- A civil rights group on Monday appealed a judge's decision allowing random police searches of riders' bags in subways to deter terrorism.

The notice of appeal by the New York Civil Liberties Union was filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging Judge Richard M. Berman's conclusion that the searches are constitutional.

In a ruling earlier this month, the judge said that the counterterrorism measures were "indisputable, pressing, ongoing and evolving" and that evidence offered by the city showed the searches were an effective tool against terrorists.

The NYCLU will ask the appeals court to hear the case quickly, legal director Christopher Dunn said.

"This country has never before seen a program like this, which subjects millions of innocent subway riders to potential police search without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever," Dunn said.

If the subway bag searches are permitted to continue, "suspicionless police searches of people on city sidewalks may not be far behind," Dunn said.

City lawyer Gail Donoghue said in a statement the city believed the searches were constitutional and would "vigorously defend them on appeal."

"Subway bag searches are an important tool in the (New York Police Department's) arsenal against potential terrorist attacks in the subways," she said.

The sporadic New York police searches began in July following deadly mass transit bombings in London. Officers permit people to refuse inspection and leave the transit system.

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