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Posted by Jeff from ( on Monday, June 17, 2002 at 3:59PM :

High Court Upholds Police Power on Bus Searches
Mon Jun 17, 3:57 PM ET

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ( news - web sites) ruled on Monday that the police may search bus passengers and their luggage for drugs or weapons without first telling them of their rights.

The justices, by a 6-3 vote, said a U.S. appeals court was wrong in ruling that a bus search should be considered unconstitutionally coercive unless the police first warn passengers they have the right to refuse to cooperate.

Justice Anthony Kennedy ( news - web sites) said for the court majority that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to advise bus passengers of their right not to cooperate and to refuse consent to searches.

The ruling was a major victory for the Bush administration. It argued the police should not be deprived of an essential crime-fighting tool needed to protect the nation's public transportation system after the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on America.

The case stemmed from a 1999 search of two Greyhound passengers in Tallahassee, Florida. Three police officers boarded the bus, which was bound from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Detroit.

One officer remained at the front of the bus, watching passengers without blocking the exit, while the other two officers asked the passengers about their travel plans and requested to inspect their luggage.

An officer told passengers Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown he was looking for illegal drugs and weapons. They agreed to allow the officers to search their overhead luggage, which contained nothing illegal.

Drayton and Brown then agreed to a pat-down search of their clothing. It revealed that they were carrying nearly a kilogram of cocaine.

Drayton and Brown then were convicted on drug charges and received prison sentences of 10 years and 7-1/3 years, respectively.

The appeals court ruled the cocaine should not have been admitted as evidence, saying the passengers were not told they were free to leave and their consent was not truly voluntary.

Kennedy disagreed.

He said the searches involving Drayton and Brown had been reasonable. Kennedy said "ample grounds" existed to conclude their encounter with the police was "cooperative" and not "coercive or confrontational."

"There was no application of force, no intimidating movement, no overwhelming show of force, no brandishing of weapons, no blocking of exists, no threat, no command, not even an authoritative tone of voice," Kennedy said.

He concluded the consent given by Brown and Drayton to the search had been voluntary.

Justices David Souter ( news - web sites), John Paul Stevens ( news - web sites) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ( news - web sites) dissented. Souter said extensive searches have been used on airplanes, but not on buses and trains.

"Anyone who travels by air today submits to searches of the person and luggage as a condition of boarding the aircraft. It is universally accepted that such intrusions are necessary to hedge against risks that, nowadays, even small children understand," he said.

"The commonplace precautions of air travel have not, thus far, been justified for ground transportation, however, and no such conditions have been placed on passengers getting on trains or buses," he said.

Souter questioned whether the search had been voluntary.

"It is very hard to imagine that either Brown or Drayton would have believed that he stood to lose nothing if he refused to cooperate with the police or that he had any free choice to ignore the police altogether," he said.

"No reasonable passenger could have believed that, only an uncomprehending one," Souter said.

-- Jeff
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