DOCKET NO.: 99-1030
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 531 US 32 (2000)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 2000
DECIDED: Nov 28, 2000
A. Scott Chinn - Argued the cause for petitioners
Kenneth J. Falk - Argued the cause for respondents
Patricia A. Millett - Argued the cause for petitioners
Facts of the case
In 1998, the City of Indianapolis began to operate vehicle checkpoints in an effort to interdict unlawful drugs. At each roadblock, one office would conduct an open-view examination of the vehicle. At the same time, another office would walk a narcotics-detection dog around the vehicle. Each stop was to last five minutes or less, without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Both James Edmond and Joell Palmer were stopped at one of the narcotics checkpoints. They then filed a lawsuit, on their behalf and the class of motorists who had been stopped or were subject to being stopped, alleging that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment and the search and seizure provision of the Indiana Constitution. The District Court denied a request for a preliminary injunction, holding that the checkpoint program did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed.
Are highway checkpoint programs, whose primary purpose is the discovery and interdiction of illegal narcotics, consistent with the Fourth Amendment?
Media for City of Indianapolis v. EdmondAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 2000 in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 28, 2000 in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 99-1030, City of Indianapolis versus Edmond will be announced by Justice O’Connor.
Sandra Day O'Connor:
This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
In August 1998, the City of Indianapolis started a highway checkpoint program.
The primary purpose of the program is the interdiction of illegal narcotics.
The party stipulated in the case that the checkpoints were being conducted in accordance with written guidelines, under which the police stop a predetermined number of vehicles at each checkpoint.
An officer informs the driver, that the driver is being stopped at a drug checkpoint, and asked for the license and registration of the vehicle.
The officer looks for signs of impairment and examines the vehicle from the outside.
A narcotics detection dog walks around the outside of the vehicle.
The city conducted six of these drug roadblocks between August and November 1998, stopping over 1100 vehicles and arresting approximately 9% of the motorists stopped.
Roughly half the arrests were for drug related offenses.
The respondents filed a Class Action Suit after being stopped at one of these checkpoints.
The District Court denied a preliminary injunction.
A divided panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we affirm the judgment of the Seventh Circuit.
In Michigan Department of State police versus Sitz, we approved a sobriety vehicle checkpoint for the purpose of combating drunk driving.
In United States versus Martinez-Fuerte, we approved vehicle checkpoints near the Mexican border for the purpose of intercepting illegal immigrants.
These cases are examples of limited exceptions to the general rule that a search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.
Considerations specifically related to the need to police national borders were significant factor in the Martinez-Fuerte decision.
In Sitz, there was a close connection between the imperative of roadway safety and the law enforcement practice at issue.
Likewise, we suggested in the case of Delaware versus Prouse, that a State could constitutionally set up a roadblock for checking licenses and registrations of the vehicle in order to serve the violent for sub-highway safety.
We distinguished roadway safety interest from the general interest in crime control.
The petitioners concede and the evidence shows that the primary purpose of the checkpoints in this case is to interdict illegal narcotic drugs.
This purpose is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control.
As a result we hold that the Indianapolis drug checkpoint program violates the Fourth Amendment.
A low traffic in illegal narcotics create social harms of the first magnitude.
The gravity of the threat alone could not be dispositive of what means law enforcement officers may use to pursue a given end.
Our holding today is limited to checkpoints whose primary purpose is general crime control.
It does not address other programatic searches or seizures, aimed primarily at purposes beyond the general interest in crime control.
The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joins and in which Justice Scalia joins as to part 1 I believe; Justice Thomas has also filed the dissenting opinion.