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Federal appeals court rules neighborhood vehicle checkpoints unconstitutional

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday a neighborhood motorist checkpoint program unconstitutionally violated plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment [text] rights. The court overturned a ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], applying precedent from the Supreme Court's decision in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond [text]. In Edmonds, the police sought to deter uncommitted crimes:

the primary purpose of the Indianapolis checkpoint program [was] ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. ... It is this rule which governs the present case, and as the purpose of the [neighborhood safety zone] checkpoint program is not immediately distinguishable from the general interest in crime control, appellants' argument that the seizures were unconstitutional appears headed for ultimate victory.

The court concluded that for this reason, the harm to appellants was evident and that the appellants had a compelling case that there was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. DC District Attorney Peter Nickles [official profile] has said that the city will appeal [ABC video] the decision, while Police Chief Cathy Lanier [official profile] issued a statement [text] saying that the department did not attempt to circumvent the constitution in doing what they considered was appropriate for the situation.

The lower court decision had denied the four plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin future implementation of Metropolitan Police Department Special Order 08-06, which, in June 2008, established a police Neighborhood Safety Zone (NSZ) program that was implemented for two periods of time in the Trinidad neighborhood of DC. Eleven checkpoints were set up to control incoming motorists from coming into the neighborhood unless they met approved category requirements that entailed proving their address in the neighborhood or reasons for entering. The original lawsuit was brought by four plaintiffs who were denied entrance into the neighborhood during the first implementation. The case was brought on behalf of the plaintiffs by the Partnership for Civil Justice [advocacy website].

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