Supreme Court rules drug checkpoints violate Fourth Amendment

PoliceOne Staff Report
(WASHINGTON) -- Police roadblocks used to search motorists for drugs violate the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the 6-3 majority, "Without drawing the line at roadblocks designed primarily to serve the general interest in crime control, the Fourth Amendment would do little to prevent such intrusions from becoming a routine part of American life," the New York Times reported.

The ruling, released Monday, affirms a Chicago court's decision that drug checkpoints set up in 1998 in Indianapolis violate constitutional rights.

Under this practice, police checked cars in succession, checking licenses and registrations and having a dog sniff outside the car for drugs. The system netted more than 100 violators out of more than 1,100 vehicles stopped, according to the Times. Drug violations accounted for more than half of the arrests.

Taking into account that drug-sniffing dogs have been ruled to constitute a minimal intrusion and a 1980 decision that upheld the legality of sobriety checkpoints, the Indianapolis city attorneys argued that the drug roadblocks are not unconstitutional.

"We cannot sanction stops justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime," O'Connor said. "We are particularly reluctant to recognize exceptions to the general rule of individualized suspicion where governmental authorities primarily pursue their general crime-control ends."

In his dissent Chief Justice William Rehnquist called the program "constitutionally irrelevant," according to the Times.

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