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Federal appeals court rules random NY subway searches constitutional

[JURIST] A federal appeals court Friday upheld New York City's program of random, suspicionless baggage searches on subways as constitutional. The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the search program "satisfies the special needs exception to the Fourth Amendment's usual requirement of individualized suspicion."

The New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] brought the lawsuit on behalf of five plaintiffs who claimed that the search program violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiffs argued that the special needs doctrine does not apply where the plaintiffs had a full, rather than a diminished expectation of privacy in their bags, and that the City of New York failed to demonstrate that the program was justified by an immediate terrorist threat, or that the program was effective. The Second Circuit held:

that the special needs doctrine may apply where, as here, the subject of a search possesses a full privacy expectation. Further, we hold that preventing a terrorist attack on the subway is a "special" need within the meaning of the doctrine. Finally, we hold that the search program is reasonable because it serves a paramount government interest and, under the circumstances, is narrowly tailored and sufficiently effective.
The ruling, which upheld the December decision [JURIST report] of a federal district court judge, noted that the New York City subway system has been unsuccessfully targeted for attacks twice in the past nine years. The New York Times has more.

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