Newsbrief: Court Okays Police Pressure for Searches on Mass Transit 6/21/02

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The US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Monday that police can pressure passengers on public-transit systems to consent to a search and need not inform them of their right to refuse. This is not a change from common police practice, but overturns the decision of a US Court of Appeals in Atlanta that ruled evidence inadmissible in the drug-trafficking convictions of Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown.

The court in Atlanta ruled the evidence inadmissible because it was obtained through intimidation. According to the court in Atlanta, the officers used a "show of authority" that would cause any reasonable person to feel forced to consent. The court ruled that their consent to a search was invalid and therefore the packets of cocaine found on them were inadmissible in court.

Writing for the majority opinion of the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote there "was nothing coercive [or] confrontational. There was no application of force, no intimidating movement, no overwhelming show of force, no brandishing of weapons, no blocking of exits, no threat, no command, not even an authoritative tone of voice... The fact that an encounter takes place on a bus does not on its own transform standard police questioning of citizens into an illegal seizure."

Justice David Souter wrote a dissenting opinion, on behalf of himself and Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stating that the court's opinion had an "air of unreality" about it. In agreement with the Atlanta court, he wrote that "no reasonable passenger could have believed... he had a free choice to ignore the police altogether."

According to Steven Silverman, Executive Director of Flex Your Rights (http://www.FlexYourRights.org), "This ruling is not surprising because it is all too consistent with past rulings that have expanded police power to search and seize in the name of fighting drugs. It's worth noting that this ruling does not seem to radically change the rules of engagement regarding consent searches."

"For example," explains Silverman, "people on buses -- and everywhere else -- do not have to consent to a police officer's request to search them, as Drayton and Brown foolishly did. It's unfortunate that the police can now approach citizens in any public place and ask for their permission to search them, but this is precisely why all citizens need to be trained to properly assert the constitutional rights they still have."

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Issue #242, 6/21/02 Editorial: Perspectives from Europe | Indiana Man Challenges Constitutionality of Analogue Laws | DRCNet Interview: Steven Silverman, Flex Your Rights | New DRCNet/StopTheDrugWar.org Merchandise Out -- Discounted Purchase Available | Newsbrief: Court Okays Police Pressure for Searches on Mass Transit | Human Rights Watch Report Says 124,000 Children Have Lost Parents to New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws | Newsbrief: Baltimore Anti-Drug Campaign Grant Shot Down | Newsbrief: Unitarians to Consider "Statement of Conscience" on Drug Policy Next Week | Newsbrief: New Zealand Greens Want to Talk About Legalization | Newsbrief: Britain Tests Heroin Dispensers | Newsbrief: Industrial Hemp to be on Ballot in South Dakota | Newsbrief: Nevada Voters to Weigh Benefits of Decriminalization | Newsbrief: Congress Questions Colombia's Drug War Performance | Newsbrief: Actor Larry Hagman of JR Fame Speaks Out Against Prohibition in Autobiography | The Reformer's Calendar

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