State Court Affirms Constitutional Guarantee Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

March 7, 2002 12:00 am

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WESTFIELD, MA-A Massachusetts state court today rejected the Commonwealth's attempt to create a new "homeland security" exception to the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"Today's ruling affirms that fundamental Fourth Amendment protections can and should be preserved by the judiciary," said Bill Newman, Director of the ACLU's Western Massachusetts' office. "The events of September 11th do not change the genius of that Constitutional protection."

The case, Commonwealth v. Carkhuff, was brought by the American Civil

Liberties Union of Massachusetts on behalf of David Carkhuff, a motorist who was stopped and later arrested by police while driving on a road near a local reservoir.

In his opinion, Judge David Ross of Westfield District Court held that the "homeland security" exception argued for by the Commonwealth would "substantially gut" the state and federal constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures.

While the Commonwealth concedes that Carkhuff had done nothing that would justify the police stop, lawyers argued that in making the stop state police were simply responding to "fax" alert received from the Office of Homeland Security.

That fax spoke of "a credible threat" and warned of an impending attack on the United States. There was however, no mention of a specific target or type of target or facility. In fact Massachusetts was not even mentioned.

State police responded by heightening security for the Cobble Mountain reservoir in Westfield -- a city 99 miles west of Boston. The police were particularly concerned about large trucks or vans that could be carrying explosives and decided to apprehend any pedestrian or vehicle on the road near the reservoir. Carkhuff, who was driving a small sedan, was stopped and interrogated by the police as he drove on the road by the reservoir during the early morning hours of October 15, 2001.

After forcing the car to stop and interrogating the driver, the police arrested him for driving under the influence. Carkhuff denies the charge.

In ruling on the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence. The Court held:

"The Commonwealth would have the Court carve a new homeland security exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment ... Recognition of such a broad homeland security exception would constitute a sea change in constitutional law."

The court found that there was no basis on which to claim that the state police seizure of the defendant's sedan was rationally related to the aim of protecting the reservoirs.

"The tragic and horrific events of September 11 did not topple the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures," the court's opinion concluded.

Mr. Carkhuff is represented by Ryan E. Alekman of Springfield, Massachusetts, and William C. Newman, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The ruling in the case can be found at: /node/34836.

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