Sunday, July 12, 2009

FEATURED QUESTION: Constitutional Rights

In the summer of 2009, in the midst a crime wave in the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington, the District of Columbia Police Department twice set up checkpoints with roadblocks specific to that neighborhood. At the roadblocks, drivers were asked if they had "a legitimate reason" to enter the neighborhood. On Friday, July 10, 2009, reversing a ruling by a lower court, a federal court of appeals ruled that those roadblocks unconstitutional on the basis of the Fourth Amendment.

Please read the following excerpt from an article in the Washington Post:

In a strongly worded opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit condemned the roadblocks, which police used last summer in the city's Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington. The checkpoints, which have not been used in about a year, were a response to a spate of shootings, including a triple homicide.

"It cannot be gainsaid that citizens have a right to drive upon the public streets of the District of Columbia or any other city absent a constitutionally sound reason for limiting their access," Chief Judge David B. Sentelle wrote for a three-judge panel. "It is apparent that appellants' constitutional rights are violated."


Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for the Partnership for Civil Justice, which sued the District on behalf of four residents, hailed the ruling as a victory for law-abiding drivers who were questioned at checkpoints. In an effort to quell a series of shootings, drivers were forced to stop at roadblocks and were asked whether they had a "legitimate" reason to be there. Some were denied passage.

"We have always asserted that this program was blatantly unconstitutional, and the mayor and the attorney general should not be running roughshod over the basic fundamental rights of the citizens of the District," Verheyden-Hilliard said.
In defense of using the roadblocks, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles stated as follows:
"It was effective....People were coming in, using cars to shoot the place up and then escaping in their vehicles."
Read the entire article.

What is your view of the use of such roadblocks and of the appropriateness of the court's ruling?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 7/12/2009 01:00:00 AM