The police in Mayfield Heights, Ohio are clearly put out that the Supreme Court has ruled out checkpoints for drugs. They have come up with what they believe is the next best thing: fake drug checkpoints. They are effectively threatening an unconstitutional stop to see which drivers flee . . . and then searching their vehicles. It turns out that Police Chief Fred W. Bittner has support from the local prosecutors in threatening police abuse as a basis to stop cars.
When the Court allowed sobriety checkpoints, many civil libertarians objected to the reduction of protections for suspicionless searches. Yet, in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, the Court ruled 6-3 that such stops were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. As a result, citizens are now routinely stopped in these checkpoints.
However, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), the Court drew the line at drug checkpoints and ruled that such stops were unreasonable. The Mayfield Heights police and prosecutors are clearly disappointed that they cannot search all citizens driving on roads around this city of just 19,000. So they came up with the faux stop idea.
Here is how it works. The police post large yellow signs on the Interstate warning of a drug checkpoint ahead and to be prepared to stop for a drug-sniffing dog. Instead of a checkpoint, police just watch for any suspicious response to the sign. The police say that they nabbed four people this way.
Putting aside the low yield, there is the abuse of threatening unconstitutional acts to see if citizens try to avoid it. Yet, Dominic Vitantonio, a Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor, insisted that “We should be applauded for doing this. It’s a good thing.”
It’s a good thing that police threaten citizens with unconstitutional actions and then search them when they seek to avoid it. I would challenge any such stop. There are ample reasons for citizens to want to avoid police abuse, which is what the signs are promising since police cannot engage in such action.
In one case detailed in this story, a man missed his exit and was pulled over to check his phone for direction. He then pulled back on the freeway. He the pulled over again to connect his phone to a re-charger as he is supposed to do rather than multitask while driving. Police then pulled him over and demanded to know what kind of drugs he had in the car. He was told that it would be better for him to simply confess before the arrival of the drug-sniffing dog. The man agreed to a search and no drugs were found.
The fact that the prosecutor, Mr. Vitantonio, supports such abusive practices shows a serious gap of judgment in this jurisdiction. He appears to believe that citizens should be stopped if they take any effort to avoid an act of police abuse. I hope that one of these four citizens will challenge their arrests and put Mr. Vitantonio’s theory to the test.
Source: Washington Post