- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide when a traveler's consent to a search for drugs or weapons truly is voluntary, and not coerced by a police show of force.
The high court accepted the Justice Department's claim that the question of whether police must tell passengers their rights takes on greater importance because of current concerns about terrorism and trafficking in drugs and weapons aboard buses, trains and airplanes.
By June, the justices will decide if Christopher Drayton and Clifton Brown Jr. voluntarily agreed to a search on Feb. 4, 1999, when three detectives boarded their bus at a depot in Tallahassee, Fla. Both men had bags taped inside their trousers carrying a combined total of 1.7 pounds of illegal drugs.
They were convicted separately of cocaine trafficking. Those convictions were reversed by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which ruled the police saw no suspicious behavior that would justify a search.
Setting the questions now before the high court, the three-judge panel also found it coercive for police to take command of the Fort Lauderdale-Detroit bus carrying 25 or 30 passengers, and request to search for weapons and drugs while pushing a badge within 12 to 18 inches of passengers' faces while leaning over their shoulders from behind.
The appeals court said in its October 2000 opinion that it was unconstitutional because the suspects didn't feel free to leave or to refuse the search.
The same court set ground rules for such searches in a July 24, 2000, decision and relied on that decision as the basis for reversing the convictions of Mr. Drayton and Mr. Brown.
"Consensual interactions between police officers and citizens on means of public transportation are an important part of the national effort to combat the flow of illegal narcotics and weapons," U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson said in a brief asking the court to review those decisions, which, he said, threaten an important law enforcement tactic.
"In the current environment, they may also become an important part of preventing other forms of criminal activity that involve travel on the nation's system of public transportation," Mr. Olson said.
In this case, the court said one of the three officers knelt in the driver's seat and watched as the other two worked through the narrow aisle. Officers testified their suspicions were raised because the men were so cooperative in agreeing to a search of their luggage, so they asked to do a "pat down" for weapons and found packets of cocaine taped inside their drawers "hard objects inconsistent with human anatomy."


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