Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Illegal search?

July 4, 2001


To the editor:

With Independence Day upon us, it seems fitting to note the threat to our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures posed by "sobriety check points." While the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of these tactics, the court has also stipulated that arrest rates of less than 5 percent would raise doubts as to whether there is a legitimate government interest in the practice.

The use of a "sobriety check point" in Lawrence recently netted just three illegally impaired drivers out of 180 vehicles stopped. These results fall well short of the threshold specified by the court. Local police reported that they received unanimous praise for their actions. Yet, if we applied the same premise of the check points to other instances, one wonders how citizens would respond if, say, the police showed up at their houses and demanded, without probable cause, to search for burglary tools.

Obviously, even one person injured or killed by a drunk driver is a tragedy. However, readily abandoning our constitutional rights to thwart such behavior may be an even greater catastrophe. As Justice John Paul Stevens declared in his dissenting opinion on the legality of the road blocks, "Unfortunately the Court is transfixed by the wrong symbol the illusory prospect of punishing countless intoxicated motorists when it should keep its eyes on the road plainly marked by the Constitution."

Bill Staples,


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