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LEGAL REVIEW (R)
|Vol. 41 No. 5||September / October 2012|
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Highlights of This Issue
Federal and State Decisions
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Federal and State Decisions
Special BulletinSpecial Bulletin: Drug Checkpoints: Ruse; Reasonable Basis for a Stop
United States v. Neff, No. 10-3336 (10th Cir. 2012)
The mere fact that a motorist turned off the highway onto another road immediately after seeing a ruse “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” sign was not a sufficient basis to stop the car to investigate. The court ruled that an officer must identify additional suspicious circumstances or independently evasive behavior to justify stopping a vehicle that uses an exit after a ruse drug checkpoint sign.
“At the outset, we note that the Supreme Court has held ‘actual’ roadside drug checkpoints are unconstitutional. In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 48 (2000), the Court held that a narcotics checkpoint whose primary purpose ‘is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control’ violates the Fourth Amendment. . . .
“In the wake of Edmond’s rebuke of suspicionless drug checkpoints, some law enforcement organizations began the practice of setting up ruse drug checkpoints. In what may be understood as the first generation of post-Edmond drug checkpoints, police would set up ‘drug checkpoint ahead’ signs on the highway but then operate a full-scale checkpoint at the next (likely rural) off-ramp. The theory behind this alteration was that the police would have an element of individualized suspicion for every vehicle that took that ramp because there were few ‘legitimate’ reasons for using an exit in an isolated area.
“While this modification significantly minimizes the number of innocent drivers subjected to police intrusion, these ramp drug checkpoints remain problematic because their ‘primary purpose is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control.’ See Edmond, 531 U.S. at 44, 48 . . .”
“. . . [A] driver’s decision to use a rural highway exit after seeing drug checkpoint signs may serve as a valid, and indeed persuasive, factor in an officer’s reasonable suspicion analysis. . . . But standing alone, it is insufficient to justify even a brief investigatory detention of a vehicle. . . .”
“A Fourth Amendment seizure that relies solely on a driver’s decision to use a rural or ‘dead exit’ following checkpoint signs falls short of the requirement of individualized, articulable suspicion of criminal activity. . . .
“We hold that an officer must identify additional suspicious circumstances or independently evasive behavior to justify a vehicle that uses an exit after ruse drug checkpoint signs. . . .”
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