Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Restricts Random Roadblocks, Again 5/16/03

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For the second time in three years, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that highway checkpoints set up for specific public safety reasons cannot be used as a pretext to subject vehicles and drivers to unwarranted searches. Such roadblocks must be limited to their express purposes, the court ruled in the case of a Colorado man arrested for drug possession after being stopped at a "drivers license and registration" checkpoint on Interstate 70 near Salina in February 2000.

Robert Abell was deemed by police at the checkpoint to be "very nervous," not dressed for the weather, and to smell of marijuana. Police turned drug-sniffing dogs on the vehicle, and they found two grams of cocaine and 10 grams of marijuana. As the Salt Lake Tribune acerbically noted in a Tuesday editorial lauding the ruling, the drug dogs were "apparently on hand to help officers check drivers' licenses and turn signals."

"Here the checkpoint was ostensibly a drivers' license check, but included a half-dozen other checks unrelated to drivers' license violations," wrote Chief Justice Christine Durham in overturning a lower court ruling allowing the evidence seized at the checkpoint to be used against Abell. "We see no justification for allowing the state to use the interest in enforcing the drivers' license requirement as the predicate for permitting officers to conduct investigations for which they would otherwise need a warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion."

The court's ruling in the Abell case is in line with its ruling in the 2000 case of Henry Thomas DeBooy, also arrested for drug possession at a "public safety" roadblock. In that ruling, the court held that "multipurpose, general warrant-like intrusions on the privacy of persons using the highway are unacceptable."

The court last week agreed, warning that allowing such checkpoints to become all-purpose stop-and-search fests for law enforcement was a practice akin to the Crown warrants of colonial days that allowed officials to search anyone, anywhere, anytime they felt like it. "A free society cannot tolerate such a practice," the Utah Supreme Court held.

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Issue #287, 5/16/03 Editorial: Coddling Kidnappers | Illinois Over-the-Counter Syringe Bill Passes House, Awaits Governor's Signature | Moves Continue to Win Freedom for Tulia 13 -- Congress to Take a Look | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation Delayed -- Fears of United States, Discord in Government Cited | Alert and Clarification: Truth in Trials Act | Vote Now in Two Online Marijuana Decriminalization/Legalization Polls | World Social Thematic Forum to Address Drug Policy, Cartagena, Colombia, Next Month | Countdown to Fairness: Celebrity-Led Rockefeller Drug Law Protest Coming June 4th | Six-Year Anniversary of Esequiel Hernandez Shooting This Week | Newsbrief: Indonesia Quietly Supports Needle Exchanges | Newsbrief: US Functionaries Bluster at Bolivia | Newsbrief: US Invasion Liberates Iraqi Heroin, Cocaine Sales | Newsbrief: You Better Watch Yer Ass in Texas, Boy | Newsbrief: Utah Supreme Court Restricts Random Roadblocks, Again | Newsbrief: Supreme Court to Revisit Roadblock Ruling | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Newsbrief: New Jersey Drug Warrior Prescribes More Aggression | The Reformer's Calendar

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