High Court Rules Passengers Need Not Be Told of Rights

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Police Search Of Bus Upheld
High Court Rules Passengers Need Not Be Told of Rights

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 18, 2002; Page A01

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that police officers seeking to search and question passengers on public buses do not have to tell them they have the right to refuse to cooperate, a decision that gives law enforcement more latitude in combating security threats in the U.S. ground transportation system.

By a 6 to 3 vote, the court agreed with the Bush administration that police officers did not violate the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures when they arrested two men after asking to search them and finding drugs during a random check for weapons and drugs aboard a cramped Greyhound coach.

Under the circumstances, a reasonable person would have felt free to decline the officers' request, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.

"There was no application of force, no intimidating movement, no overwhelming show of force, no brandishing of weapons, no blocking of exits, no threat, no command, not even an authoritative tone of voice," Kennedy wrote. "It is beyond question that had this encounter occurred on the street, it would be constitutional. The fact that an encounter takes place on a bus does not on its own transform standard police questioning of citizens into an illegal seizure."

Although the case involved domestic crime, the Justice Department implied in the government's appeal to the Supreme Court that restricting police searches could impede efforts to fight terrorism. The case attracted attention as an early test of how the court would balance the competing interests of individual freedom and public safety in the transportation context after Sept. 11. The terrorist hijackings exposed the vulnerability of airplanes -- whose passengers already must submit to random, warrantless searches and questions.

Though the court's opinion made no direct reference to those issues, supporters of the federal government's position said the ruling is in keeping with new realities.

"Clearly, public transportation systems are a prime target for terrorists, and a decision that upholds important police tools in protecting public transportation has to end up giving us more protection from terrorists," said Richard A. Samp, chief counsel to the Washington Legal Foundation, which had filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the government's behalf.

In dissent, however, Justice David H. Souter, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, implied that the court had inappropriately equated the security situation aboard ground transportation with that facing the airlines and their customers.

"Anyone who travels by air today submits to searches of the person and luggage as a condition of boarding the aircraft," Souter wrote. "It is universally accepted that such intrusions are necessary to hedge against risks that, nowadays, even small children understand. The commonplace precautions of air travel have not, thus far, been justified for ground transportation, however, and no such conditions have been placed on passengers getting on trains and buses."

Souter said there was "an air of unreality" to Kennedy's contention that passengers who agreed to be searched by police on the bus did so because it made them feel safer, rather than because they felt the officers had control over the small space inside the bus, giving them no real choice but to comply.

"It seems to me that the court gives the authorities even more legal weapons to stop and search people," said Leon Friedman, a Hofstra University law professor who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supporting the men who were arrested. "I don't know that terrorists target buses necessarily, but this does make it easy to stop people and ask questions and open up luggage no matter how narrow or coercive the circumstances."

But Kennedy emphasized that some aspects of the situation on the bus made it more likely that passengers would say no if they so wished: "Because many fellow passengers are present to witness officers' conduct, a reasonable person may feel even more secure in his or her decision not to cooperate with police on a bus than in other circumstances," he wrote.

The case arose on Feb. 4, 1999, when a Detroit-bound Greyhound bus with about 25 to 30 people on board made a scheduled rest-and-refueling stop in Tallahassee.

Three Tallahassee police officers, in plain clothes but displaying their badges, entered the bus with the driver's permission. One took up a position at the front of the vehicle, kneeling on the driver's seat, looking toward the back. The second and third officers then moved from the back of the bus to the front, informing passengers that they were looking for drugs and weapons, asking them if they had any luggage and requesting permission to look inside it.

When one of the officers reached the seats where Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown Jr. were sitting, he noticed that they were wearing heavy coats and baggy pants, a sign, the officer believed, that they might be concealing drugs under their clothes.

With his face only a foot or so away from Brown, the officer asked if he could search him, and when Brown said "Sure," the officer patted him down, eventually discovering bags of cocaine strapped to his inner thighs. He then repeated the process with Drayton.

Arrested and turned over to authorities, both men were convicted on federal drug-trafficking charges. They appealed, saying the evidence turned up in the bus search should have been suppressed because it was gathered by unconstitutional means.

In 2000, the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed with the two men, ruling that "seeing an officer stationed at the bus exit during a police interdiction might make a reasonable person 'feel less free to leave.' "

The government appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case on Jan. 4. The case is U.S. v. Drayton, No. 01-631.

2002 The Washington Post Company

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1715-2002Jun17.html

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), June 18, 2002

Answers

The dates make the escuses and logic a load of BS. Although the case involved domestic crime, the Justice Department implied in the government's appeal to the Supreme Court that restricting police searches could impede efforts to fight terrorism. The case attracted attention as an early test of how the court would balance the competing interests of individual freedom and public safety in the transportation context after Sept. 11.

Considering the situation took place The case arose on Feb. 4, 1999, when a Detroit-bound Greyhound bus with about 25 to 30 people on board made a scheduled rest-and-refueling stop in Tallahassee. Did the pilice know back then that rights would be removed and/or restricted because the events of 911 would happen? Or are the courts just using 911 as an excuse to throw out the rights in cases before 911, and setting a precident for removing every right we were given when this country was created,(after 911) and the ones we worked so hard for since.

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), June 18, 2002.


And what will your critique be after the first suicide/homicide bus-bomber strikes in this country? Nevermind, we already know. You will bitch that Bush should have prevented it.

-- (roland@hatemail.com), June 18, 2002.

The real tragedy is that those bus riders and others like them were unaware that they had, and have, the right to politely REFUSE to comply with random searches. The dumbing down of America, thanks to LIBERAL education standards.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), June 18, 2002.

Not to mention that other war, the one that will surely fail.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), June 18, 2002.

Unk, it's not a LIBERAL dumbing down.

Remember the peaceful marches against the war (never declaired) in VietNam? Or how about Kent State, where college students were shot by The American National Guard?

Quit blaming everything on liberals. It was the liberals who insured your freedom of speech and right not to have your door bashed in and house searched without reasonable cause and a search warrent. It was/is the liberals who forced the water you drink to be cleaned up, it was the liberals who fought to clean the air you breath. Keep touting the party line and wake up and look around, Or one day you will wake up and find yourself living in a world (country) you don't recognize.

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), June 19, 2002.



HA! Funny concept, coming from somebody who blames conservatives for everything bad!

In case you haven't paid attention I don't blame everything on liberals. However, I do blame them for the state of education in America today, it isn't just a co-incidence that the NEA supports the Democratic Party. Have you seen a history textbook lately?

Conservatives, REAL conservatives, are in favor of free speach, and the right to not have your door bashed in. (Living in a country I don't recognize? Remember Waco? Hi Janet!) Conservatives, or perhaps the more accepted term for a true conservative these days; Libertarians, breath the same air and drink the same water you do.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeeD@yahoo.com), June 19, 2002.


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