Fake Drug Checkpoints: OK for Cops to Lie to Motorists?

Police in one Ohio town are defending their use of fake drug checkpoints as a legal and useful tactic to catch would-be drug violators. But civil libertarians aren’t so sure.

The ACLU of Ohio wants to make sure officers aren’t profiling motorists or violating their Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures.

“We’re obviously gathering information and most of that deals with the specifics of stops and how that happened,” Nick Worner, a spokesman for the ACLU of Ohio, told MSN News on Tuesday.

“I think the question beyond whether they can conduct fake drug checkpoints is whether they should. There’s at least a certain segment of the population that thinks it’s dishonest.”

On June 24, police in Mayfield Heights, a city of about 19,000 east of Cleveland, put up signs along the northbound I-271 express lanes that warned: “Drug Checkpoint Ahead,” “Police K9 Dog In Use” and “Prepare to Stop,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Officers then watched how motorists reacted after seeing the signs. Those who reacted “suspiciously” — crossing through the grassy median, for example — were pulled over, according to the Plain Dealer.

Dominic Vitantonio, a Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor, said four motorists were stopped and searched. He said there were arrests and drugs seized but didn’t provide details.


The Supreme Court, which upheld the use of sobriety checkpoints in 1990 as public health and safety measures, in 2000 struck down the use of random roadblocks intended for drug searches, saying they are an unreasonable invasion of privacy under the Constitution. But the use of fake drug checkpoints is perfectly legal, experts told The Plain Dealer.

Ric Simmons, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, was quoted by the newspaper as saying police are legally allowed to deceive people.

“They can lie to anybody,” Simmons said.

Vitantonio said fake checkpoints are a legitimate tactic to catch drug criminals.

“We should be applauded for doing this,” Vitantonio told the Plain Dealer. “It’s a good thing.”

John Bowman, of the National Motorists Association, said he doesn’t like the tactic, even if it is legal.

“I think it is kind of shady to do something like that, to trick people,” he told MSN News.

Worner of the ACLU agreed the tactic raises more than legal questions.

“Is this what the community wants the police to be doing?” he asked.

Article courtesy of

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