Monday, April 06, 2009

What I Saw On My Vacation: "DRUG CHECK AHEAD."

I consider myself someone pretty up on the news, and so it came as a shock to me when I was driving on Florida's Alligator Alley (I-75 connecting the east and west coast of Florida) to see an electronic sign flashing "DRUG CHECK AHEAD."

"DRUG CHECK AHEAD."

Never seen that before.

My first thought was that it was a sign that was being used at some pharmaceutical conference or health care festival and was now pulled over for some maintenance issue.

Then I saw it.

Two cars, well a station wagon with big silver rims and a van, pulled over by two Broward Sheriff's Officers, and then a few hundred feet later, two more vans pulled over.

I assumed this was the DRUG CHECK, AHEAD.

Now I am aware of DUI roadblocks. They are advertised, regulations are printed requiring that "every 4th car,"or something like that be stopped, but this was all new to me.

Were police officers randomly pulling cars over to seek consent to search for drugs?

I think so, but I didn't stop to ask.

I, in my (quote unquote) white SUV with my family and the family dog heading out on vacation, were not stopped.

So who was, stopped?

Did everyone consent? I have to think so. I was thinking, what if I was stopped? Should I put on my lawyer hat, my criminal defense lawyer hat and wait an hour for a dog (which wouldn't make my dog happy)? Or let the officers search through some of my kids toys and ask if the dog food was really dog food?

Is this a frequent occurrence in Broward County, in other counties, other states?

Are we acknowledging the failed war on drugs with new and inventive ways to find, drugs?

Are there regulations on who is stopped? Probably not. Is Delaware v. Prouse, that nuisance of a case that says it's unconstitutional for state police to randomly stop vehicles at a check stop unless there is a justifiable reason for a motorist to be stopped, still good law?

We're all aware of City of Indianapolis v. Edmond where the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with a drug checkpoint. The majority believed it was set up to find drugs. The three dissenting justices believed it was to check driver's licenses and vehicle registration. The drug checkpoints had written rules and like this one in Broward County, were identified with lighted signs reading, "Narcotics Checkpoint -- One Mile Ahead. There was a dog, and if it alerted, your day was done.

But In Michigan Dep't. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), where the Court upheld the State's use of highway sobriety checkpoints, the Court, noted its disapproval of a "checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing."

The majority concluded that "in determining whether individualized suspicion is required, courts must consider the nature of the interests threatened and their connection to the particular law enforcement practices at issue. The Court is reluctant to add exceptions to the general rule of individualized suspicion where law enforcement officers primarily pursue their general crime control ends."

So are drugs "ordinary criminal wrongdoing," and DUI "extraordinary?" If you live in Florida, you have to say yes.

So case law aside, with domestic and other violent crime on the rise, what are we doing here? (Cue the "drugs lead to violent crime" talking points.)

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

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