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More Council Members Criticize Lanier Checkpoint

As Post staff writers Allison Klein and Nikita Stewart report this morning, the criticism is growing among council members for Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Mayor Adrian Fenty's decision to set up a police checkpoint on a street in the Northeast neighborhood of Trinidad, where deadly violence has been on a frightening rise. The Post story quotes a directive from Lanier that details how the checkpoint is supposed to work, starting tomorrow. It also turns out that Lanier has had a plan for such checkpoints in the works for weeks.

But Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) joined Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) in raising concerns about the tactic. Echoing concerns by the American Civil Liberties Union, council members said while the intentions may be good, the potential constitutional issues involved can't be dismissed.

"They seem to lack . . . an ordinary sense of commonly protected rights," Cheh said, noting the department's recent initiatives are creating a disturbing pattern. "I assume they are acting out of good motivation, but they really have to look into the methods. It's really outrageous."

But Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) was supportive of the plan. "I commend the chief because she is doing her very best to come up with innovative ways to help resolve" the crisis.

By Marcia Davis  |  June 6, 2008; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Council  
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According to the Supreme Court of the United States, this initiative is, on it's face, a violation of the U.S. Constitution and, thus, a violation of Federal law. Unless and until they (the Court) reverse themselves, the D.C. Govt. is willingly stripping U.S. Citizens (District Residents) of their Fourth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court did not stipulate that the practice magically becomes constitutional if it is being used as an "innovative" way to help resolve crime, Mr. Graham (I though you were an attorney).

See the precedent case below.





No. 99--1030. Argued October 3, 2000-Decided November 28, 2000


Petitioner city operates vehicle checkpoints on its roads in an effort to interdict unlawful drugs. Respondents, who were each stopped at such a checkpoint, filed suit, claiming that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied respondents a preliminary injunction, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the checkpoints contravened the Fourth Amendment.


Because the checkpoint program's primary purpose is indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3--15.

(a) The rule that a search or seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent individualized suspicion of wrongdoing has limited exceptions. For example, this Court has upheld brief, suspicionless seizures at a fixed checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens, United States v. Martinez&nbhyph;Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, and at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road, Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444. The Court has also suggested that a similar roadblock to verify drivers' licenses and registrations would be permissible to serve a highway safety interest. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663. However, the Court has never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Pp. 3--7.

(b) The latter purpose is what principally distinguishes the checkpoints at issue from those the Court has previously approved, which were designed to serve purposes closely related to the problems of policing the border or the necessity of ensuring roadway safety. Petitioners state that the Sitz and Martinez-Fuerte checkpoints had the same ultimate purpose of arresting those suspected of committing crimes. Securing the border and apprehending drunken drivers are law enforcement activities, and authorities employ arrests and criminal prosecutions to pursue these goals. But if this case were to rest at 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 checkpoint program is also not justified by the severe and intractable nature of the drug problem. The gravity of the threat alone cannot be dispositive of questions concerning what means law enforcement may employ to pursue a given purpose. Rather, in determining whether individualized suspicion is required, the Court must consider the nature of the interests threatened and their connection to the particular law enforcement practices at issue. Nor can the checkpoints' purpose be rationalized in terms of a highway safety concern similar to that in Sitz, or merely likened to the antismuggling purpose in Martinez-Fuerte. Neither Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, nor Bond v. United States, 529 U.S. 334, precludes an inquiry into the checkpoint program's purposes. And if the program could be justified by its lawful secondary purposes of keeping impaired motorists off the road and verifying licenses and registrations, authorities would be able to establish checkpoints for virtually any purpose so long as they also included a license or sobriety check. That is why the Court must determine the primary purpose of the checkpoint program. This holding does not alter the constitutional status of the checkpoints approved in Sitz and Martinez-Fuerte, or the type of checkpoint suggested in Prouse. It also does not affect the validity of border searches or searches in airports and government buildings, where the need for such measures to ensure public safety can be particularly acute. Nor does it impair police officers' ability to act appropriately upon information that they properly learn during a checkpoint stop justified by a lawful primary purpose. Finally, the purpose inquiry is to be conducted only at the programmatic level and is not an invitation to probe the minds of individual officers acting at the scene. Pp. 7--15.

183 F.3d 659, affirmed.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J.

Posted by: Concernedaboutdc | June 6, 2008 8:28 PM | Report abuse

City of Indianapolis v. Edmund

Case Date: 11/28/2000

On November 28, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state and local governments may not set up roadblocks to catch drug offenders, despite plaintiff's brief filed on May 15, 2000, which supported the constitutionality of such roadblocks. In particular, the Court rejected plaintiff's contention that the roadblocks were lawful whether or not conducted for the purpose of criminal law enforcement; the Court concluded instead that the Constitution DID NOT permit suspicionless searches for the general purpose of crime control.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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