World’s easiest law school exam question

You don’t even have to go to law school to get this one right:

Is it Constitutional for the police to randomly stop people on the street and search them?

I mean, duh, you’d have to be really stupid to get that one wrong, wouldn’t you?

Well, I suppose you could be the Mayor of New York. Or a bunch of people who apparently have never taken the time to read the Constitution.

But a court recently ruled in a “No, duh” decision, that New York city’s policy of randomly stopping young black men and searching them for no reason was not allowed.

Sadly, I wish they’d go farther. The 4th Amendment says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”police car

Requires a warrant. Clear and plain as day. No exceptions listed.

The courts, of course, have found exceptions to this all over the place, the most obvious one being that police can search if they have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed or that the suspect is armed and so on. The general idea of “reasonable suspicion” is not bad — I don’t mind letting police search someone for their own safety after an arrest — don’t want to waste time getting a warrant in every single instance. But that has been defined in such a way lately that they can search in almost every instance. The next logical step was, of course, a policy like New York city’s, which, for quite some time, was perfectly legal.

Mayor Bloomberg, meanwhile, said he’d appeal, so this isn’t over. Your tax dollars at work.

2 thoughts on “World’s easiest law school exam question

  1. Oh, yeah? If that’s such an easy constitutional decision explain the fact that pretty much every state has random highway checkpoints in an effort to curb drunk driving. Haven’t heard of any of those laws….actually I don’t even think they are laws…they are administrative decision by law enforcement to treat every random citizens that goes by as a criminal….being overturned.


  2. 1. Those require a warrant. The police have to show that it is an area that has had a lot of drunk drivers before, and have to get a judge to agree.

    2. No one is required to participate, and the search is announced in advance and you can turn around and go another way.

    3. It’s not so much a search as a “safety stop” — once you stop, if the police don’t smell alcohol or see drugs or otherwise have no probable cause to do anything else, they have to let you go.

    Like I said, there are reasonable exceptions to every Amendment (something the gun lovers who think the 2nd Amendment is carved into stone don’t understand).

    We can of course disagree on what those exceptions should be. It’s clear from my sarcasm in today’s blog that I think NY’s Stop and Frisk goes too far; others think it’s just fine.


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