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Genesee County in Mich. sets up drug checkpoints, likely unconstitutional

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office has set up checkpoints to search cars for drugs around the city of Flint, something that legal experts say is almost certain to be found unconstitutional by a federal court if challenged.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

At least seven times this month, including Tuesday, motorists have said they have seen a pickup towing a large sign on I-69 or U.S.-23 that depicts the sheriff’s badge and warns: “Sheriff narcotics check point, 1 mile ahead — drug dog in use.”

The checkpoints are part of a broad sweep for drugs that Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell and his self-titled Sheriff’s Posse said are needed, calling Flint a crossroads of drug dealing because nearly a half-dozen major roads and expressways pass in and around the city. Pickell said he decided to try checkpoints when he learned that drug shipments might be passing through Flint in tractor-trailers with false compartments…

Based on a case out of Indianapolis, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2000 that narcotics checkpoints where everyone gets stopped on a public road are not legal and violate Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures, professor David Moran at the University of Michigan Law School said.

Wayne State University Law School professor Peter Henning said police can set up roadblocks to search all who pass by, but only if a crime has just been committed.

And Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who said he was not consulted by Pickell about the checkpoints, said that after a court challenge, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that so-called “sobriety check lanes,” put in place to nab drunken drivers, were illegal.

The new practice of narcotics checkpoints “certainly brings up probable-cause issues,” Leyton said Thursday.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from engaging in a search without first showing probable cause, except under very specific and narrow conditions.

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