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Supreme Court Rules on Bus Searches Mon Jun 17, 2:42 PM ET By ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Police do not have to read passengers their rights before asking to look for drugs or other evidence of a crime aboard buses or trains, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case given extra weight by the government's claim that police need more leeway to fight terrorism.
Officers routinely check buses and trains for drug couriers. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, they also have focused efforts on possible terrorists who could be using public transportation.
Police in Tallahassee, Fla., were within their rights to move up the aisle of a Greyhound bus, asking questions of each passenger and, in the case of two men wearing heavy clothing on a warm day, asking permission to search their luggage and bodies, the Supreme Court ruled, 6-3.
The officers found bricks of cocaine strapped to the men's legs, and they were later convicted on drug charges.
The question for the court was whether Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown were coerced into cooperating with police, who did not tell them they had the right to refuse. The Constitution guarantees freedom from "unreasonable searches or seizures."
The men agreed to the search, and nothing about the fact that they were seated on a bus forced them to say yes, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court.
"Police officers act in full accord with the law when they ask citizens for consent. It reinforces the rule of law for the citizen to advise the police of his or her wishes and for the police to act in reliance on that understanding. When this exchange takes place, it dispels inferences of coercion."
Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor ( news - web sites), Antonin Scalia ( news - web sites), Clarence Thomas ( news - web sites) and Stephen Breyer ( news - web sites).
Lawyers for the men argued that with two officers standing in the aisle and another posted by the front door, the men felt boxed into their seats and unable to either refuse to answer questions or get up and leave the bus.
Writing for the minority, Justice David H. Souter agreed.
"It is very hard to believe that either Brown or Drayton would have believed that he stood to lose nothing if he refused to cooperate with the police, or that he had any free choice to ignore the police altogether," Souter wrote. "No reasonable passenger could have believed that, only an uncomprehending one."
Souter, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens ( news - web sites) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( news - web sites), said bus travel is not the same as airline travel, in which passengers routinely submit to searches of their belonging without a police warrant and without any individual suspicion that they have anything to hide.
"It is universally accepted that such intrusions are necessary to hedge against risks that, nowadays, even small children understand," Souter wrote. "The commonplace precautions of air travel have not, thus far, been justified for ground transportation however," he noted.
The court majority reversed an appeals court ruling in the men's favor.
Without mentioning the Sept. 11 airliner hijackings specifically, administration officials invoked the war on terrorism and the concern over aviation security in appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
"Programs that rely on consensual interactions between police officers and citizens on means of public transportation are an important part of the national effort to combat the flow of illegal narcotics and weapons," Solicitor General Theodore Olson wrote.
"In the current environment, they may also become an important part of preventing other forms of criminal activity that involve travel on the nation's system of public transportation," he added.
The court majority did not address the antiterrorism argument directly, but Kennedy wrote, "Bus passengers answer officers' questions and otherwise cooperate not because of coercion but because the passengers know that their participation enhances their own safety and the safety of those around them."
John Wesley Hall, a specialist in search and seizure cases who sits on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, predicted police will use the case to justify searches far beyond the confines of public transportation.
"It will show up everywhere ? in car searches, house searches," Hall said.
While I believe our nations drug laws are a travesty, these two should have said no. There is nothing wrong with cops asking questions. The two men in question consented to a search.
As far as reading them their "rights", there is no mention in either the constitution or the bill of rights as to such a requirement. I wish there were, but there isn't. The reading of the rights was dreamed up by a far too liberal supreme court.
-------------------- You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it. ~ Adrian Rogers
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