While it's illegal for police to set up real checkpoints to search a driver or their vehicle, it’s apparently perfectly legal to set up fake drug checkpoints.
Police in the Cleveland suburb of Mayfield Heights gathered in the left lane of Interstate 271 Monday. They set up signs warning motorists that there was a drug checkpoint ahead, replete with drug-sniffing K-9, and to expect to be stopped. In the end, there was no checkpoint. Officers just wanted to see if any driver reacted suspiciously, presumably by making a quick exit from the freeway.
"The last time I checked, it is not against the law to pull over to the side of the road to check directions," said Bill Peters, one of the drivers pulled over that day.
Peters, 53, said he wonders if police stopped him simply because he has long, unkempt hair. He allowed his car to be search and no drugs were found.
"I see what they're doing, but I think it's kind of dangerous," Peters said. "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."
Several people were stopped and searched. Authorities said some drugs were seized, but declined to be more specific.
Civil rights groups are concerned about the checks being a violation of a driver’s Fourth Amendment rights, reported the Plain Dealer. The spokesman for the Cleveland office of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nick Worner, said his office would investigate the practice to determine if motorist’s rights are being violated.
According to legal experts, however, the fake checkpoints are legal. A Supreme Court ruling in 2000 determined that real drug checkpoints are illegal. Randomly stopping cars can only legally occur in order to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. and to get drunk driver’s off the road.
A Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor Dominic Vitantonio said the measure is a legitimate practice in the war on drugs.
"We should be applauded for doing this," Vitantonio said. "It's a good thing.
Vitantonio said four people were stopped and searched Monday.
"They can lie to anybody," said Ric Simmons, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. Simmons acknowledged that the fake drug checkpoints are legal.
"I don't think it accomplishes any public safety goals," he said. "I don't think it's good to mislead the population for any reason if you're a government agency."