The Supreme Court Boosts Motorists' Privacy Rights

The Supreme Court Boosts Motorists' Privacy Rights
Posted by FoM on January 04, 1999 at 10:15:07 PT

The U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously and appropriately, has come down on the side of Americans' privacy rights in ruling that police may not search motorists or their vehicles after a routine traffic stop.
The high court overturned the conviction of an Iowa man who was found to be in possession of marijuana when his car was searched after he was stopped for speeding, an offense for which the usual sanction was a citation. The court's ruling effectively calls a halt to searches when an officer is not in danger and there is no evidence of other criminal activity.Chief Justice William Rehnquist highlighted the distinctive nature of a traffic stop by holding for the court that once a motorist has been stopped and the ticket has been issued, all action necessary for prosecution has been completed.If there are no other circumstances that suggest a prolonged encounter - such as a threat to the officer's safety or a reason to suspect the vehicle contains drugs or other evidence of a crime - then the car and its occupants must be allowed to go on their way.Obviously police would occasionally turn up evidence of a crime if they were allowed to search every car they stopped for a minor traffic violation. But enforcement of the law must be reined in by constitutional proprieties. That means there is a social tradeoff: A possible drug user goes undetected in order to maintain the integrity of the Fourth Amendment and its prohibition of "unreasonable searches and seizures."Reasonable people will agree with the high court that the Fourth Amendment needn't be a casualty of the war on drugs.
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