The US constitution contains clear language requiring government officials to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge based on evidence of “probable cause” that the person to be searched has committed a crime.
Here’s what the founding document of the United States 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.”
The war on drugs has voided this language. If you live in the US, you can now be searched without a warrant, at random, with no legal recourse. Whatever police find can and will be used against you. It’s like a year-long hunting season, and everybody is fair game.
The war on drugs is the main device through which government has obtained the right to violate your privacy. In the last four decades, court rulings at all levels, but especially in the Supreme Court, have given police, school officials, private security officers, employers and others the right to inspect your body and belongings if they think you are guilty of drug crimes.
If they find marijuana during these searches, you can be charged with crimes. If your attorney protests that the search was illegal, judges more often than not will rule that regardless of the search’s illegality, the evidence seized is contraband and is proof of a crime.
The “war on terror” has capitalized on and extended the government’s drug war powers while quieting citizen resistance to government intrusiveness. That’s why most people riding on subways and other public transit systems in places like New York City are passively submitting to random searches; they’re afraid that terrorists will blow them up, based on recent bombings in London, so they’ve given up their rights.
New York Police Department officers, members of one of the most anti-marijuana, anti-civil liberties police department in the country, are walking up to people on subways, trains, ferries and buses, and demanding that the people submit to searches of their bodies, baggage and other belongings.
Eight years ago, New York police began their own war on marijuana, with a zero tolerance policy that led them to arrest thousands of people, mostly young black men, for smoking joints in public. Pro-marijuana rallies, such as the annual Million Marijuana March sponsored by potseed entrepreneur Marc Emery, are usually busted up by New York police, who have often arrested many marchers during the peaceful yearly rallies.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican corporate magnate who runs the city as if it was his private company, authorized illegal police brutality and illegal citizen detentions during anti-war protests at last year’s Republican Party convention in the city. He claims that the city’s transit search policy is a necessary response to London terrorism.
“Are the searches intrusive? Yes, a little bit,” Bloomberg said at a press conference. “But we are trying to find that right balance.”
That “right balance” apparently includes racial profiling, a practice long used in the drug war. “Drug courier profiles” created by the DEA and other law enforcement agencies contain characteristics that apply to virtually everyone, but especially target non-whites, immigrants, poor people, hippies, and youth. Numerous lawsuits and journalistic investigations have established that blacks and Hispanics, and now Arabs, are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white citizens are.
To avoid being accused of profiling, New York police claim they have been instructed to search people at random, without probable cause. But it’s a Catch-22 for them because either way, say constitutionalists, the searches violate US law.
Representatives of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), say the police are using profiling, but even if they are just doing “random searches,” the searches are violations of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“We are entitled to move freely around the city without being worried about being searched by police,” NYCLU Director Donna Lieberman said. “The NYPD can and should investigate any suspicious activity, but the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from conducting searches where there is no suspicion of criminal activity.”
Lieberman is well-intentioned, but apparently does not realize that the Fourth Amendment is long dead.
Students in US schools have zero protection against unreasonable searches, which often include being stripped by adults and subjected to unspeakable forms of sexual humiliation, even though “strip searches” are supposedly illegal.
Principals and teachers often take students into private offices to search student’s bodies and belongings. School lockers, parking lots and classrooms are all searchable, with drug dogs routinely brought in to conduct random searches. And if you are a student or adult wanting to get a job or keep one, your body fluids will be searched for illegal drugs. If traces are found, you can be fired or forced into mandatory counseling.
Recent Supreme Court rulings have authorized the use of drug testing, using blood, hair and urine, on students.
For students and all citizens, the constitution’s alleged prohibitions against intrusive searches are totally useless if you are assailed by a non-governmental employee.
Private security personnel outnumber police officers by three to one. If you’re in a shopping mall, parking lot, sporting event or other area, you are more likely to be hassled by a private security guard than by a police officer. Cannabis Culture has received numerous reports from young people about being targeted at by private cops at shopping malls and music events. What most people don’t know is that by buying a ticket to see Coldplay, Eminem or some other musical act, or by entering a shopping mall, you have given up your right to be free from illegal searches.
In most cases, private cops can search you with impunity. If they find weed, they can steal it from you, remove you from the venue, detain you, or call police. If you struggle with a private cop, resist the search, or injure the fool, you will be charged with a crime.
Private security agents work in cahoots with police to bust people in possession of small amounts of pot. They often detain people, call police, give the “evidence” to police, and then the police can arrest the person.
The “justice system” used to provide safeguards against such actions. Before the war on drugs, if judges found that marijuana was seized via an “unreasonable search,” the evidence was ruled inadmissible, which usually resulted in the dismissal of criminal charges. This throwing out of evidence was called the “exclusionary rule.”
New court precedents created to empower the drug warriors have gutted the exclusionary rule. Many judges will rule that evidence illegally seized was nevertheless seized “in good faith,” and can be used to prove guilt. Prosecutors often use such evidence to create a “preponderance of information” that a crime was committed. Illegally-seized evidence can negatively influence a judge during sentencing, can help a prosecutor impeach the honesty of a defendant, and can be used as proof of other crimes that have nothing to do with the contraband seized.
An ancillary problem with America’s new police search protocols is that police have been taught that there are dozens of traits that give them probable cause to search someone for suspected illegal drugs.
As with the overly broad list of traits used to help citizen narks identify places where marijuana is being grown, as outlined in a recent Cannabis Culture online article, personal traits specified by the DEA and other police agencies that allegedly indicate a person is carrying illegal drugs are so generic as to identify virtually everyone.
Drug cops seeking to identify drug-carrying travelers are advised that the following characteristics provide reasonable suspicion: “Arrived late at night, arrived early in the morning, arrived in afternoon, one of first to deplane, one of last to deplane, deplaned in the middle, purchased ticket at airport, made reservation on short notice, bought coach ticket, bought first-class ticket, used one-way ticket, used round-trip ticket, paid for ticket with cash, paid for ticket with small denomination currency, paid for ticket with large denomination currency, made local telephone call after deplaning, made long-distance telephone call after deplaning, pretended to make telephone call, pretended not to make telephone call, traveled from New York to Los Angeles, traveled to Houston, traveled to small town, carried no luggage, carried brand-new luggage, carried a small bag, carried a medium-sized bag, carried two bulky bags, carried two heavy suitcases, carried four pieces of luggage, overly protective of luggage, disassociated self from luggage, traveled alone, traveled with a companion, acted too nervous, acted too calm, made eye contact with officer, avoided making eye contact with officer, wore expensive clothing and gold jewelry, dressed casually, went to restroom after deplaning, walked quickly through airport, walked slowly through airport, walked aimlessly through airport, left airport by taxi, left airport by limousine, left airport by private car, left airport by hotel courtesy van, suspect was Hispanic, suspect was black female, suspect was young, suspect was old, suspect had long hair, suspect wore bright clothing, suspect wore conservative clothing…”
As you can see, the list includes virtually every traveler. Courts have upheld the legality of searches based on just one of the preceding traits.
What can you do to prevent yourself from being busted if you live in the United States, England and other countries where you can be searched at any time?
Other than not ever having any marijuana in your possession, which is an abhorrent option, your best bet is to refuse to ever consent to a search if you are accosted by private cops or government agents. If you are searched anyway, your refusal to have consented will probably be one of few legal tools your attorney can use to challenge the search and any evidence seized thereby.
In a broader context, your duty and challenge as a citizen is to immediately become political and activistic to the extent necessary to change laws, customs, politicians, and societal structures that have resulted in the current prison without walls that the US has become. If you live in the US and believe you are a free person, you are in denial. Your freedoms were taken away a long time ago, especially if you love the healing herb.
It should be noted that when Cannabis Culture began warning pot people years ago that governments were becoming increasingly oppressive, the magazine’s writers were criticized by some as being needlessly pessimistic, alarmist, and afraid.
Now that hundreds of people are being aggressively stopped and searched by police in New York City and other parts of the US every day, it should be obvious that our warnings were accurate, and that the time to stand up against dictator governments is now!