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Fake drug points: a constitutionally dubious police practice

One of the primary initial concerns in building a criminal defense case is to determine whether police officers involved in the criminal process have acted properly and legally in gathering evidence, arresting, citing, and questioning the criminal defendant. This is an incredibly important question, particularly in cases where police have gathered incriminating evidence by means of questionable practices.

To take one example of questionable practices: police in the Ohio town of Mayfield Heights recently tried to get around the illegality of using highway checkpoints to stop drivers and search for evidence of drugs. The way they did this was to set up fake drug checkpoints. The practice, which has been seen before, typically involves setting up large signs along a roadway warning drivers that a drug checkpoint is ahead, that they should be prepared to stop, and that drug-sniffing canines are waiting to investigate motorists.

In such a setup, there is no actual checkpoint—checkpoints set up primarily for the purpose of detecting illegal drugs have been deemed unconstitutional. What police are looking for is the reaction of drivers who see the sig/[ns. If they see suspicious activity, they stop the motorist, search their vehicle and arrest and seize items as needed.

The practice of using fake drug checkpoints is dubious at best. It makes use of an ambiguity in constitutional law in order to make targeting drug traffickers easier. Though the Supreme Court has not yet taken up the issue of fake drug checkpoints, many question the constitutionality of the practice, which seems to serve not genuine public safety concern.
In our next post, we’ll continue taking a look at this issue.

Source: Huffington Post, “Fake Drug Checkpoints In Cleveland Suburb Catch Real Suspects,” June 23, 2013.