Setting Limits on Drug War Tactics, High Court Rejects Drug Roadblocks
WASHINGTON--In yet another sign that the government has overstepped its authority in the war on drugs, the Supreme Court today found unconstitutional the Indiana state police's practice of using roadblocks with drug-sniffing dogs.
Today's decision, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, marks the third recent ruling by the Justices to limit the search tactics used by the government. In 1999, the Court held that an anonymous tip that someone is carrying a gun is not enough to justify a stop-and-frisk and that immigration officials violated bus passengers' privacy rights when they squeezed the overhead luggage searching for drugs.
"The court today affirmed the principle that government cannot cut constitutional corners even in pursuit of a goal it identifies as being for the public good, said Kenneth J. Falk, Legal Director of the Indiana affiliate of the ACLU, who argued the case before the Justices in October.
At the Indiana roadblocks, police officers checked license and vehicle registrations, motorists were examined for any signs of drug use and a drug-sniffing dog walked around the outside of each stopped car.
In an opinion written for the 6-3 majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that the reasoning behind the Indianapolis roadblocks -- chiefly that the benefit to the public outweighs the inconvenience -- cannot justify the use of unconstitutional methods by the police.
"If this case were to rest on such a high level of generality, there would be little check on the authorities' ability to construct roadblocks for almost any conceivable law enforcement purpose,'' the opinion said.
"Taken together with earlier rulings, today's decision sends a clear message that even a conservative Court is not willing to countenance the serious erosion of our basic constitutional rights in the name of the war on drugs," said ACLU National Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro.
Today's case, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, No. 99-1030, was brought as a class action by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two individuals and the citizens of Indiana, all of whom are subject to the random roadside searches.