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Cities may call out dogs to find drugs

High court to hear arguments on whether random narcotics roadblocks are legal.

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You are in a car heading across town to an important meeting - late, as usual. On the highway ahead, you notice a flashing sign and a police officer waving all the cars off to the side of the road.

An officer asks to see your license and registration and says you have been stopped at a narcotics checkpoint. While the officer verifies your paperwork, another officer leads a drug-sniffing dog around the car.

Are you offended at the implicit accusation? Upset over the inconvenience and delay? Or is it worth it to help rid society of the problem of drug abuse and narcotics trafficking?

With police eyeing such roadblocks as a potential tool in America's antidrug arsenal, drivers may have to start asking such questions. But more important is whether such searches are legal under the US Constitution.

That's the question the US Supreme Court will consider today, when the justices take up the case of two drivers who sued Indianapolis officials after being stopped at narcotics checkpoints.

Neither driver was arrested. Nor had they done anything wrong. And that's their point.

The essence of their case is that the Constitution requires that the police not be able to detain people without reasonable suspicion that a particular individual has committed a crime. Random dragnets violate this fundamental principle of the Fourth Amendment, they argue.

A federal appeals court panel agreed in a 2-to-1 decision, striking down the Indianapolis program. But now the city is asking the Supreme Court to reverse that decision, a move that would give a green light to law-enforcement officials across the country to set up similar drug-detection roadblocks.

"This case, if the Supreme Court reverses, will bring the Fourth Amendment home to all Americans," says Ken Falk, legal director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, which is arguing the case at the high court on behalf of the two innocent drivers.

Lawyers for the city counter that the Supreme Court has recognized certain exceptions to the rule, like when police set up roadside sobriety checkpoints to keep drunk drivers off the highways. In addition, they argue that the inconvenience to innocent motorists of a two-to-three minute

stop is more than counterbalanced by the government interest in enforcing narcotics laws.


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