OCTOBER TERM, 2000
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit
No. 99-1030. Argued October 3, 2000—Decided November 28, 2000
Petitioner city operates vehicle checkpoints on its roads in an effort to interdict unlawful drugs. Respondents, who were each stopped at such a checkpoint, filed suit, claiming that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied respondents a preliminary injunction, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the checkpoints contravened the Fourth Amendment.
Held: Because the checkpoint program's primary purpose is indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 37-48.
(a) The rule that a search or seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent individualized suspicion of wrongdoing has limited exceptions. For example, this Court has upheld brief, suspicionless seizures at a fixed checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens, United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543, and at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road, Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U. S. 444. The Court has also suggested that a similar roadblock to verify drivers' licenses and registrations would be permissible to serve a highway safety interest. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 663. However, the Court has never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Pp. 37-40.
(b) The latter purpose is what principally distinguishes the checkpoints at issue from those the Court has previously approved, which were designed to serve purposes closely related to the problems of policing the border or the necessity of ensuring roadway safety. Petitioners state that the Sitz and Martinez-Fuerte checkpoints had the same ultimate purpose of arresting those suspected of committing crimes. Securing the border and apprehending drunken drivers are law enforcement activities, and authorities employ arrests and criminal prosecutions to pursue these goals. But if this case were to rest at such a high level of generality, there would be little check on the authorities' ability to construct roadblocks for almost any conceivable law enforcement purpose. The checkpoint program is also not justified by the severe and intractable nature of the drug problem. The gravity of the threat alonePage: Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Next
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