In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that random checkpoints intended to check for drugs violated the Fourth Amendment (Associated Press). Police in the Mayfield Heights suburb of Cleveland, Ohio skirted around that ruling by setting up fake drug checkpoints along I-271, and despite the fact that the following searches resulted in some arrests and seizures, civil rights advocates and some members of the community are upset over this controversial tactic.
The way that these fake drug checkpoints were set up seems specifically designed to trick motorists. Police put up signs along I-271 that warned motorists, “Drug Checkpoint Ahead,” and “Police K9 Dog in Use,” advising motorists to be prepared to stop (Peters). Instead, police proceeded to watch how people reacted to the signs and if they acted in a way police deemed as ‘suspicious’, they were pulled over and searched (Peters). Four people were pulled over and searched, and although authorities declined to provide specifics, some of these resulted in arrests and drug seizures (Associated Press).
This controversial law enforcement tactic had differing reactions from members of the Mayfield Heights community and the Cleveland community at large. Mayfield Heights’ assistant prosecutor, Dominic Vitantonio, defended the decision, saying, “We should be applauded for doing this…it’s a good thing” (Associated Press). In the eyes of the legal system, it seems that they view this tactic as a legitimate move in the state’s continued war on drugs. However, other community members are outraged by this decision, as they see it as deceptive and infringing on their Constitutional rights. A prominent civil rights attorney in Ohio challenged this tactic, saying “I don’t think it’s good to mislead the population for any reason if you’re a government agency” (Associated Press).
Police can only stop random cars if they’re preventing illegal immigrants from entering the country with contraband or to remove drunk drivers from the road (Associated Press). Considering that these fake drug checkpoints weren’t intending to do either of these things, it could be viewed as a violation of the Fourth Amendment which declares that, “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Additionally, although this controversial method did result in some drug charges, it seems like law enforcement was going out of their way to go around a law that was established over a decade ago.
The controversial method used by Mayfield Heights police seems to be the first of its kind, and given the backlash, it may be the only instance. While people who are involved in criminal activity should be held responsible, it’s also important for law enforcement to recognize and respect the rights of the public. If they begin to violate those, they are no better than the people they are going out of their way to arrest. There are plenty of people who are overtly involved in drug-related criminal activity, giving them many opportunities to search cars and residences with reasonable suspicion. These cases, however, don’t seem to be among them – these people were driving, fooled by a law enforcement maneuver, and subsequently subjected to what could be viewed as an illegal search and seizure.
Associated Press. “Fake Drug Checkpoints In Cleveland Suburb Catch Real Suspects.” 30 June 2013. Huffington Post. Web. 22 July 2013.
“Ohio police department sparks controversy with fake drug checkpoints.” 2 July 2013. Fox News. Web. 22 July 2013.
Peters, Bill. “Fake drug checkpoints: OK for cops to lie to motorists?” 2 July 2013. MSN. Web. 22 July 2013.
Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Latest News · Tags: alcohol, arrests, checkpoints, Civil Rights, Cleveland, constitutional rights, criminal activity, drugs, DUI, fake drug checkpoints, Fourth Amendment, I-271, Mayfield Heights, motorists, Ohio, Police, search and seizure, searches