Originally created 11/30/00

Block random searches 113000 - The Augusta Chronicle



The U.S. Supreme Court is correct in its ruling that random roadblocks aimed at finding illegal drugs constitutes an unreasonable and unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

Indianapolis police had set up roadblocks in high-crime areas, detaining mostly law-abiding motorists for several minutes. Drug-sniffing dogs were led around the vehicles of each stopped driver.

Then they came to Joell Palmer and James Edmond, who were drug-free but highly offended at being stopped and treated like criminals. Palmer, who had in his vehicle some Libertarian Party material that favored the legalization of drugs, was made to get out of his car while dogs went through it, according to the Indianapolis Star.

In all, the Indianapolis police stopped 1,161 vehicles in the roadblocks, which began in 1998. They arrested 104 people, but only 55 of them on drug charges.

What's disturbing is that the ruling was not unanimous. Justices William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in an Orwellian nine-page dissent, called these random roadblocks "obviously necessary to our society" as a method of enforcing the laws on highways.

That is a scary thought. Imagine the scenario where you leave your driveway and know that you have a good chance of running into a roadblock as you go about your business. It sounds like something the old Soviet Union would employ to detain people and strike fear into citizens' hearts.

Already, roadblocks such as border and drunken-driving checks have been found constitutional. But even drunken-driving checks are a stretch. About the only justification for a roadblock is in the case of an emergency, such as if there is a dangerous fugitive in the area. In that case, a clear and present danger to the public exists and car checks might be justified.

Drunken-driving roadblocks are also far too sweeping in their scope, not meeting the criteria of "probable cause" and setting up a climate in which unchecked police powers can whittle away at constitutional protections. If random roadblocks are OK, will random house searches follow?

That right to privacy, which we sometimes take for granted, is more fragile every day. For now, at least, the Supreme Court is putting up a roadblock against violation of the Fourth Amendment.