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Drug search roadblocks prohibited, with little effect in Missouri

November 29, 2000
By: Suzanne Bessette
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Highway Patrol says the U.S. Supreme Court's decision against random highway drug searches will have a "minimal effect" in Missouri.

"While we did do some roadblocks for drug interdiction, it was not a primary tool of ours" said Capt. Chris Ricks, chief spokesman for the state Highway Patrol.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that highway roadblocks set up to search for illegal drugs violate the Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. The court's decision does not affect drunk driving checkpoints which the court has upheld in the past. That's because drunk driving poses an immediate threat to public safety that outweighs the right to privacy, while drug posession imposes no such immediate threat.

Ricks said that experienced drug-runners are usually caught through regular policework and individual stops rather than through random searches. "It's the law now," Ricks said. "We're not all that upset about it."

Local law enforcers are similarly unconcerned with the ruling. Sheldon Lineback, executive director of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, said only a minority of county sheriffs use drug checkpoints. Though the Police Chiefs Association will review the Supreme Court's decision, Lineback does not anticipate filing a legal challenge.

"Obviously we're going to follow suit with the Supreme Court; we'll be following their guiding," Lineback said. "They make the rules and we enforce whatever they say."

Drug checkpoints have never been used in Boone County, said Boone County Sheriff Captain Dwayne Carey. He explained that checkpoints require significant staffing, and that the Highway Patrol is therefore better equipped for such an operation.

Alcohol checkpoints will continue in Boone County and throughout Missouri. Boone County sets up five sobriety checkpoints per year, and the Highway Patrol sets up 50-75.