Newsbrief: Fake Drug Checkpoints Cause Uproar in Indiana 8/28/03

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Fake drug checkpoints may have gotten the judicial okay in Colorado, but a similar effort by Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, law enforcement agencies has been suspended after two days in the face of rising public criticism. On August 6 and 7, multi-agency law enforcement teams set up signs reading "Narcotics Checkpoint Ahead" in both English and Spanish on Interstate 65 just north of downtown Indianapolis. There was no checkpoint, but police would wait for drivers who saw the signs and then attempted an illegal u-turn or dangerous exit, ticket them for violations, and use that as "probable cause" to search vehicles.

Ostensibly designed to deter drug trafficking on I-65, which police, in their rote cop-speak refer to as a "major drug pipeline," the two-day effort resulted in a whopping four arrests for marijuana or drug paraphernalia possession, as well as a handful of traffic tickets. It was the brainchild of Marion County Sheriff's Department Major Scott Robinett, who heads covert operations for the department.

But the operation quickly drew criticism, and not just from the usual suspects. The usual suspects were there, of course, with the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union expressing concern, but several letter writers to Indiana newspapers ridiculed the idea, as well as expressing safety concerns. They were joined by Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, who told the Indianapolis Star the fake checkpoints could cause accidents. "The law against making U-turns in the median is there for a reason," he said. "Is it really prudent to set up a situation encouraging illegal U-turns on high-speed highways?"

And the Star itself weighed in, perhaps sensitized to the issues involved by the fact that an earlier Indianapolis effort to do drug checkpoints -- real ones that time -- led to a 2000 Supreme Court ruling barring the practice. While the court had upheld sobriety checkpoints because they had a public safety rationale, it ruled that checkpoints that impose suspicionless stops on drivers solely for law enforcement purposes are unconstitutional. The Star was blunt, relaying its stance clearly enough in the headline of its editorial: "Our Position Is: Sobriety Checks Serve A Useful Public Purpose, But Bogus Checkpoint Stings Are Silly."

Feeling the heat, Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson decided August 11 to suspend the phony checkpoints until he "reviews their effectiveness." Top Indianapolis police spook Robinett still doesn't get it, though. "All we're trying to do is stop illegal drugs; who can oppose it?" he plaintively asked the Star.

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Issue #300, 8/28/03 Editorial: One Less Prisoner in America | Cheryl Miller Memorial Project Coming to Washington, DC This September 22-23 | David Borden's Open Letter to DC's Chief Judge on Refusing to Appear for Jury Service | August is Drug Reform Lobbying Month at Home! | DRCNet/ Buttons and Stickers for Free or Cheap | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | Newsbrief: Kentucky's Galbraith Enters Attorney General Contest, Downplays Marijuana | Newsbrief: Supreme Court Justice Says Prison Terms "Too Long," Calls for End to Mandatory Minimums | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Drug War, Chinese Style | Newsbrief: Colorado Appeals Court Upholds Fake Drug Checkpoints | Newsbrief: Fake Drug Checkpoints Cause Uproar in Indiana | Newsbrief: Feds Seize Hemp Promotional Vehicle at US-Canada Border | The Reformer's Calendar

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