Court - Drug search was legal

Thursday, February 14, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A police trick that led to a man's arrest on drug charges was constitutional, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In a 4-3 decision, the court said a deceptive drug checkpoint scheme provided the necessary legal circumstances for police to search the man's vehicle and for drugs found inside to be used as evidence against him.

The case stemmed from a search of Todd Mack's vehicle by police in Troy on the night of June 24, 1999.

Police had posted signs on U.S. 61 stating and "Police drug dogs working."

The intent was that drivers possessing drugs would see the signs and leave the highway one exit earlier, where the police checkpoint was really located.

Mack took the earlier exit, was stopped by police and gave permission for a search of his vehicle. Based on what officers found, Mack was charged with possession of methamphetamine, cocaine and methylpenidate.

A Missouri court rejected his argument that the circumstances had not justified the search and seizure and that the evidence should be suppressed.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, deciding an Indiana case in 2000, disallowed evidence obtained through the use of drug checkpoints if there was no "individualized suspicion" of wrongdoing.

Based on that, a lower court later granted Mack's motion to suppress the evidence and the case was forwarded to the Missouri Supreme Court -- which ruled against Mack's position.

The court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Stephen Limbaugh Jr., said "it was reasonable to conclude that drivers with drugs would 'take the bait' and exit ... to avoid being questioned at the next exit."

Dissenting opinion

The majority in the case ruled that the evidence from the search should be allowed and the case should be sent back to the Lincoln County Circuit Court.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Laura Denvir Stith called the checkpoint "surreptitious" and "unreasonable."

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