Ohio Cops Set Up Fake Drug Checkpoints

By Chrisanne Grise 07/01/13

A controversial tactic used by police in Ohio may have violated Fourth Amendment rights.

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Police in the Cleveland area have caused controversy by setting up fake drug checkpoints to trick drivers. In 2000, the US Supreme Court determined that police can randomly stop cars only to prevent illegal immigrants or contraband from entering the country, or if a driver is suspected drunk. But stopping cars unceremoniously to check for drugs is illegal. So to catch drivers potentially carrying contraband, police in the the Mayfield Heights suburb posted large signs along the highway, warning drivers to be prepared to stop at a checkpoint with a drug-sniffing dog ahead. Then, the officers waited to see if drivers reacted suspiciously to the signs. Four people were stopped, and police say some arrests were made and drugs were seized, but no other details have been released. “We should be applauded for doing this,” says Dominic Vitantonio, a Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor, who says the fake checkpoints are legal. “It’s a good thing.”

But some law officials say this tactic could violate the Fourth Amendment against unlawful searches and seizures. "I don't think it accomplishes any public safety goals," says Terry Gilbert, a prominent Cleveland civil rights attorney. "I don't think it's good to mislead the population for any reason if you're a government agency." Bill Peters, who was pulled over, believes he was targeted because he had long hair. No drugs were found after Peters agreed to let police search his car. "The last time I checked, it is not against the law to pull over to the side of the road to check directions," he says. "I see what they're doing, but I think it's kind of dangerous. It's one thing to do this on a 25 mph road; it's another on a busy interstate. I think it's a violation to just be pulled over and searched." A spokesman for the Cleveland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union says his office will be investigating the fake checkpoints to decide if the tactic is a violation of rights.

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.