Drug Policy Press Release

08.06.13

ACLU Warns Mayfield Heights Police About Drug Checkpoint Scheme

Launches Investigation into Fake Drug Checkpoints

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, OH – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio warned the Mayfield Heights Police Department on their use of a random drug checkpoint. The checkpoint was set up on June 24, 2013 on Interstate 271 North, with signs instructing motorists that a drug checkpoint was ahead. Mayfield Heights police officers then waited for motorists that exhibited “suspicious behavior” and searched those cars. Random drug checkpoints have long been ruled illegal by courts, yet police officials claimed that this was simply a “mock checkpoint” and that only motorists who reacted to the signs were pulled over and searched.

“Mayfield Heights police may believe they have concocted a scheme that allows them to circumvent the Constitution, but they are mistaken,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “Americans have a fundamental right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and courts have been clear that random drug checkpoints like Mayfield Heights’ are illegal.”

According to news reports, at least one motorist who was subjected to a search by Mayfield Heights police had simply pulled over on the freeway to locate a cell phone charger. Ohio courts have ruled previously that if a motorist chooses to avoid a police checkpoint, that action alone does not give police a basis to search the vehicle. Courts have recognized that motorists may have a variety of reasons to avoid police checkpoints, such as wishing to avoid lengthy delays, or not being subject to police interrogation.

In addition to its letter warning the Mayfield Heights Police Department, the ACLU of Ohio also issued a records request asking for information on the June 24 drug checkpoint, and if law enforcement has any future plans to use similar schemes.

“Police should enforce the laws and protect the public, not seek to skirt the law and trick the public,” added Hardiman. “This type of law enforcement is not only unconstitutional, it is counterproductive to the police department’s ultimate goals. If Mayfield Heights police are planning to run these drug checkpoints in the future, I strongly urge them to reconsider.”

The ACLU of Ohio encourages motorists whose vehicles were searched to call (216)472-2200 or complete an online complaint form at http://www.acluohio.org/NeedLegalHelp.