Fourth Amendment

Ohio Cops Use Fake Drug Checkpoint to Dodge Fourth Amendment


Bill Peters

In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that random vehicle checkpoints aimed at finding illegal drugs violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. That is why police in Mayfield Heights, a Cleveland suburb, do not have a drug checkpoint. Instead they have the next best thing: a fake drug checkpoint. The Associated Press reports that Mayfield Heights police "recently posted large yellow signs along Interstate 271 that warned drivers that there was a drug checkpoint ahead, to be prepared to stop and that there was a drug-sniffing police dog in use." None of that was true, but the cops hoped the signs would cause drivers carrying drugs to make conspicuous attempts to avoid the nonexistent checkpoint, thereby providing reasonable suspicion for a stop.

According to A.P., the police "say that four people were stopped, with some arrests and drugs seized," but "they declined to be more specific." Three drivers called attention to themselves by making U-turns. The fourth, Medina resident Bill Peters, was pulled over because he stopped on the side of the road a couple of times to check his phone for directions and to reconnect the power adapter after it came loose. For his caution he was rewarded with a search that turned up nothing illegal. Dominic Vitantonio, a local prosecutor, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer the cops would have had to skip the search if Peters had not consented to it. But since the cops had a drug-detecting dog, they could have manufactured probable cause readily enough. 

While the ACLU's Cleveland office is looking into the operation, The Plain Dealer cites unnamed "experts" who say "the fake checkpoints are legal"—you know, because they're fake. But should police be free to threaten people with constitutional violations? What if a cop tells you he is going to search your house no matter what, but if you consent he will refrain from wrecking the place? What if he threatens to severely beat you unless you confess to a crime? Although actually beating a confession out of you would violate the Fifth Amendment, merely threatening to do so should be OK by the same logic that blesses fake drug checkpoints. It's only a fake beating, after all. 

Peters, who suspects the cops stopped him partly because of his long hair, seems to think his rights were violated. "The last time I checked, it is not against the law to pull over to the side of the road to check directions," he told The Plain Dealer. "I think it's a violation to just be pulled over and searched." Vitantonio does not understand why anyone would criticize the city's end run around the Fourth Amendment. "We should be applauded for doing this," he said. "It's a good thing."

[Thanks to Warty for the tip.]

NEXT: Legally Tinted Windows Are Reason Enough for a Traffic Stop, Says Indiana Court

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  1. You’ve got to admit that’s really clever.

    1. I think it would be really clever for everyone there to start growing Cleomes. Unless they’re flowering they look a lot like pot.

  2. “What if a cop tells you he is going to search your house no matter what, but if you consent he will refrain from wrecking the place? What if he threatens to severely beat you unless you confess to a crime?”

    These are really not hypothetical scenarios unfortunately.

    1. Another poster pointed out last week that some people make poor victims.

    2. That’s just good, proactive police work. It’s really no different than using bait cars. /sarc

  3. “[Thanks to Warty for the tip.]”

    You got the tip from Warty? You might wanna go see a Dr cause you’re probably gonna need some pennicillin

    1. at least Warty is getting a H/T. A lot of us posters on the AM and PM Links get nothing.

      1. Obviously Warty threatened him with more than the tip.

        1. When Warty is hat-tipped, we all lose.

          1. I thought he was on the outs since he provoked the wrath of the AAW Sheep Love Society. Huh, time heals all wounds i guess, even those cause by the Warty.

      2. Yeah, Balko is still getting mileage out of those killer cop T-shirts I tipped him off to. Me, bitter?

  4. this sounds a lot like: declining permission to search your vehicle gives us reasonable suspicion of a crime, and we will therefore search your vehicle.

    Heads they win; tails you lose.

  5. They’re giving out hat tips now. That’s nice.

    Except that they’re giving them to the wrong fucking people!


      1. I’m used to it. No worries.

        1. I still love you, sarcasmic. (no homo)

        2. I still love you, also (yes homo).

        3. Just make you sure you go see your Doctor if it doesn’t stop soon.

    2. No, no. They’ve moved the goalposts. Now you have to send them a link to their email address. Sarc, do your stuff.

      1. I’m not using my work email for that shit, and I don’t have access to web based mail from work. So fuck it.

      2. Yeah, that doesn’t work either.

    3. If Sarcasmic gets all the hat tips, that wouldn’t be fair.

      Everyone should get a hat tip even if they’ve never posted a link, because fairness. It was Wartys turn.

      1. So hat tips are like the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. That makes sense.

    4. They can’t figure out who to give the tip to. You got it in the 24/7 links and then they gave it to Warty here.

      (all the homo implied)

  6. Thanks to Warty for the tip

    It might be just the tip at first, but don’t believe when he says he’ll only put it in for a few seconds.

    1. “This will only hurt for a second”
      “Just the tip”
      “Never in your mouth”

      The 3 oldest lies

      1. Wait, guys actually used the 3rd one?

        I must have won the lottery cause there have been several occasions when my wife asked for that

      2. “He’s just a friend.”

        1. “That’s just a harmless rash.”

      3. I maintain that if it is beyond the tonsils, it is no longer in the mouth. Therefore I have never told that lie.

  7. Peters, who suspects the cops stopped him partly because of his long hair, seems to think his rights were violated.

    I’m sure that there’s something to that. I had long hair for a while and the cops gave me shit all the time. One day I chopped it all off and the attention stopped.
    It was amazing.

    1. Same thing happened to me. Authoritarians hate it when you don’t match them.

      1. At least I can change the length of my hair. It must suck to be black in a place with lots of cops.

    2. Then stop being a dirty hippie.

    3. Hey, profiling is illegal, so it never happens. That’s how laws work.

    4. Peters has a long-running metal show on a college station in the Cleveland area and runs Auburn Records.

      The dumbest thing these cops did was harass a guy with serious media connections.

  8. Wait, so sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, but drug sniffing check points are not? What gives?

    1. They aren’t constitutional either, the Nazgul just carved out a PUBLIC SAFETY exception for them.

      1. Basically, if it’s something that makes the cops job easier it’s most likely unconstitutional.

        1. If it’s something that makes the cops job easier in regards to bullshit victimless “crimes,” it’s most likely unconstitutional. Funny how that works, given that the Constitution doesn’t authorize the government to prohibit drugs, prostitution, CO2 emissions, etc.

      2. While it’s still a no-no to pull over one person without PC, the public safety exception makes it ok to pull over everyone without PC. Funny how that works!

    2. I’d assume it has something to do with an intoxicated person theoretically being more of an imminent danger to others than someone who just has drugs in the car.

  9. I still don’t understand how this leads to probable cause for a search.

    1. The way I understand it is the cop utters some magic words then bam, probable cause.

      1. New professionalism in voodoo investigations.

    2. They look for people avoiding an interaction with the cops. Of course, we all know that the only valid reason to avoid contact with a cop is because you’re doing something illegal and evil. You don’t have anything to hide, now do you?

      1. “Locking your doors, citizen? Something to hide?”

        1. “Just securing my prison. Cell doors aren’t supposed to be unlocked.”

    3. Officer/Judge K-9 can issue a probable cause warrant with a simple “alert”.

      1. Woof! Woof woof woof!

        [trans: I AM THE LAW!]

        1. Ruck roo, rat’s rye!

  10. Generally speaking, ruses like this ARE legal. The “fake beating’ thing (threats thereof) is a bogus analogy, but I think the author realizes that. That WOULD be illegal, or more correctly any confession made pursuant to threats of a beating would be suppressable. You can’t threaten somebody into giving up their rights. You CAN set up a ruse that would inspire some people to take evasive action. Saying there is a checkpoint ahead will naturally inspire some of those with contraband to take evasive action. If same involves either a traffic infraction or RS then the subsequent stop will be legal. Ruses tend to give people itches, much like bait car stings, etc., but there is so much case law supporting them, they aint going away.

    Speaking of creative ruses:

    “Making an anonymous phone call to the occupant of a residence, warning him that “the police are coming; get rid of the stuff,” causing defendant to leave the house with his contraband in hand, is not illegal. (People v. Rand (1972) 23 Cal.App.3rd 579; “Where the ruse does no more than to cause a defendant, activated by his own decision, to do an incriminating act-whether that act be a sale to an undercover agent or a jettisoning of incriminating material-no illegality exists.” (Id., at p. 583; see also People v. Martino (1985) 166 Cal.App.3rd 777, 789; phone call to cocaine dealer.)”

    Rand is well established law and this seems to fall in line with that kind of ruse.

    1. The fact that the traffic stops aren’t technically illegal is a bullshit excuse. It’s like saying the NSA collection isn’t illegal. We get that. The problem is the avenues that something that would otherwise be illegal/unconstitutional become not only legal, but SOP.

    2. Seems to me that if you’re resorting to the use of these so called “ruses” then you must be making criminals out of people who were doing nothing wrong.

    3. But there are many many reason an innocent person wight prefer not to be inconvenienced by a checkpoint. He might be in a hurry, he might distrust the police and fear they will resrt to violence or planting evidence against him, he might feel that the stop and potential search of his car is degrading, he might be afraid the police will profile him for his race or appearance, he might be protective of his rights out of principle, he might be allergic to German shepherds.

      Innocent people don’t enjoy being stopped or having their vehicles invaded, and may wish to avoid such an encounter.

      Deciding to take an alternate route rather than drive through a random checkpoint shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as an “evasion” or evidence of guilt. It’s more like a refusal to consent to a search. Just like a pedestrian might choose not to engage a cop in conversation on the sidewalk, by walking away from him, why can’t a driver choose not to engage the police in conversation, by driving somewhere else?

      1. Papers please or else beatings commence.

      2. Exactly !!!! This country is changing but sadly it isn’t for the better. God have mercy on us all. I can see what lies ahead, not literally, but anyone who is keeping up with issues such as this one can see it unless they just don’t want to because it;s right down terrifying. Just like the two officers who shot the dog YESTERDAY because it was trying to protect it;s master and they were trying to arrest him for taping them, he put the dog in the car when they came toward him, but it git out. The point is, he was within his right to film the police in that state and they should not have bothered him to begin with. I hope they both lose their badges and their pensions for what they did. The video(though disturbing) is on youtube). For anyone who doesn’t understand “what the big deal is” they should do some research….. Great points of view in your comment..

    4. Anything to help keep your job and grow your budget. Isn’t that right Dunphy? Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean it’s morally just.

    5. People who evade abuse of their constitutional rights are not subject to a search by way of probably cause. If it’s not considered outright entrapment, then it’s an outright abuse of probable cause. Case law doesn’t make something legal or illegal, it’s merely a reference point for future judicial decisions good or bad.

  11. Cops use lies to trick the people they serve and protect, while telling the slightest untruth to a cop will land you in jail.

    And cops honestly have no clue as to why so many people despise them.

    1. The World’s Greatest Cop will explain how everyone it talks to loves cops.

      1. Cop are viewed very favorably by people who have never interacted with them.

        1. My mother is a cop lover. But she has also never been the victim of a crime, nor has she even been given a speeding ticket.

          So she doesn’t know any better.

          1. My mother was pretty law and order until our house was robbed when I was a kid and the cops just shrugged when they got there. Made no effort at all. Our car got returned to us, but by Texas officials.

            1. That further cements my belief that there is very little crime in this country. Crime with actual victims that is. If there was then more people would know that cops don’t do jack shit to investigate unless there are assets to confiscate.

              1. Just go though the daily public shaming on your local paper’s website. It’s mostly minor drug offenses, DUI’s, public intoxication and homeless people “resisting arrest”

                1. Round here 95% of it’s DUI, violating conditions of release, and outstanding warrants. Actual crime is rare, yet I can’t drive ten miles without seeing a fucking cop.

              2. You said it!!! I believe the same way you do. There are way too many dirty cops, and too few honest ones anymore. I don’t understand how the question why they are mistrusted and despised by so many people.

      2. all while powerlifting Morgan Freeman Fairchild.

  12. I saw one of these set up (on I-16) so you could just read the sign before passing a little-used exit. A driver could exit but he’d have to cross the gore which is a violation. I don’t know why the panicked drivers didn’t realize an actual checkpoint would have had traffic backed up rather than sailing along at 80+ mph but it semed to be working.

  13. How is this a “fake” checkpoint? Police are setting up signs at a fixed location, and pulling over cars that happen to run afoul of that location. That isn’t “fake” checkpoint. That’s a checkpoint!
    They are being a trifle more selective about which fraction of the randomly acquired sample of cars they search, but the sample is still random. The analogy the article makes, of a policeman who says to a suspect “I’m going to search your house no matter what” but only searches the house if the suspect refuses, isn’t quite apt. It’s as if policemen went to houses RANDOMLY and threatened to search houses, but only searched the houses of people who refused.

    I believe that choosing to drive around a checkpoint is a de facto refusal to consent to a search. It isn’t an evasion, it’s a tacit refusal.

    1. You’re full of shit. You assume that it is right and proper for cops to just search anybody indiscriminately, and anybody who sees a problem with harassment (under the auspice of unconstitutional and immoral laws) must “have something to hide”.

      I hope you DON’T have something to hide, but see the premises of your faulty logic come home to roost. The “if you don’t have something to hide” logic pertains equally to the guilty and the innocent, you lump everybody into the same camp of rightless slaves (including yourself).

  14. This would be a good time to release the Trunk Monkey.

  15. To keep the prison industrial complex both strong and growing, we should all as American citizens do our duty and take turns going to jail instead of forcing our hard working government officials into lying and cheating to coerce us into jails.

    We can each spend a month in jail, turning ourselves over on our birthdays. There we can also give up our DNA so the government will be safe from us.

    1. Blaming the “prison industrial complex” (i.e. capitalism) for the laws and actions of a corrupt and evil government…


  16. First off, the war on drugs is BULLSHIT and should be stopped immediately. It’s a waste of time, money and resources.

    The second problem here is the assumption of guilt.
    Turning around or stopping (as was the case in this example) IS NOT adequate probable cause.
    If the police actually think it is, then there needs to be some BIG changes in police actions and views of the public that they are employed to PROTECT AND SERVE…(not to intimidate and torment).

  17. This is another reason why I will not travel through Ohio. If I am pressed for time and I have travel through Ohio. I will gas up in IN and drive as quickly as I can to PA.

    When 4th Amendment protections do not apply what is the point.

  18. Regardless of the constitutional issues, the sign is in violation of the Ohio Transportation Code and the city can be held criminally liable under Ohio law.

  19. I don’t think this should be allowed because it DOES VIOLATE our Constitutional Rights. You have heard the old adage “give someone an inch, they will take a mile” and since Obama and the Bushe(s) have been in office, we are losing more and more of the rights that every American citizen is supposed to be guaranteed!!!! Where will it end? It will only get worse if this type of illegal behavior continues to be tolerated. We as Americans need to take back each and every right that has been taken from us even if we must do so through the Supreme court system. If we sit by and do nothing, we will have NO rights before long, look at the Edward Snowden case just for starters……do your research, open your eyes and you will see what is going on in this country. Obama should not even be allowed to occupy the white house as Commander in Chief since he isn’t even a legal citizen. (That’s a topic for another time, although yes, I do feel it’s relative to this article)

    1. save these rants for the boards at Mother Jones or virtually any other media outlet. You’re preaching to the choir here.

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