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Another Gross Example Of The Ultimate Victim Of The "war On Drugs:" The Us Constitution

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Another example of how the dangerous "war on drugs" has been used to once again rape the US Constitution. In short, police are pursuing warrants to search "all people" who enter a public space under the auspices of catching drug dealers. A direct quote from the LEO:


"no "innocent persons" congregated in the abandoned lot"


Of course, by "congregate," LEO means anyone who steps foot on, walks through, stands across the street from, looks at, etc.


As a reminder, under the 4th amendment of the US constitution, we are protected from unreasonable search:


"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"



Here is the story:



NEWTOWN - For months, Sarasota police officers watched drug dealers openly sell crack cocaine and marijuana from a vacant lot behind the Mediterranean Apartments in Newtown.


Officers tried to arrest dealers, but suspects often fled and managed to disappear into the neighborhood.


The pressure to make arrests peaked in July 2009, when a man's mutilated body was found in one of the apartment units.


So that December, the agency tried something it had never done before. It sought permission from a judge to search anyone and everyone who parked or set foot in the apartment complex parking lot.


More than a dozen officers and the city's SWAT team flooded the area. They had permission to detain and pat down anyone they saw in the area.


During the two-hour raid, a dozen people were searched and, even though officers justified the wide search by telling a judge no "innocent persons" congregated in the abandoned lot, only four people were charged with drug crimes. An 80-year-old man was among those detained, then released, during the operation.


A year later, the decision by Sarasota police to use an "all persons" warrant is being questioned by legal experts who say it gave officers unjustified power to search citizens with no evidence they were committing a crime.


In court this week, Judge Rochelle Curley upheld the legality of the search warrant. But an attorney for one of the men arrested outside the Mediterranean Apartments has vowed to push the case to the district court of appeal.


Those involved say a decision by the higher court could lead to a new precedent for police searches in Florida, essentially banning such broad searches or signaling approval for more widespread use.


"It will be interesting to see what happens if the case makes it to an appellate court," said Robert Batey, a Stetson University law professor. "It could have an impact on agencies across the state."


A ruling by the New York State Supreme Court last April banned similar searches, as justices said police cannot search everyone they find in a certain area or home unless officers have evidence they have committed a crime.


"It's an overreaching warrant," said Paul Hudson, a defense attorney for one of the men searched outside the Mediterranean Apartments. "Just being in the area where the warrant is served is not enough evidence that someone is involved in a crime."


Normally, authorities build drug cases around a specific person or home. They use undercover officers or confidential informants to buy narcotics, or they watch a house long enough to find evidence. Officers take that evidence to a judge, who decides if police have justification for a raid.


Most warrants limit what can be searched -- a home, a car or a person -- and even what type of evidence can be sought. The Mediterranean Apartments gave police the right to detain and investigate anyone in the area, even those who parked their car in the lot or were just walking through.


'These guys are smart'


Experts say the limitations on search warrants are rigorous, and that police are required to show evidence that someone is involved in criminal activity before searching them.


The "all persons" search is problematic, said Batey of Stetson, because it could pull in people who just happened to be in the area.


"The idea of just being in a place is not evidence of a crime," Batey said. "It doesn't take into account that somebody could be walking by when police arrive. Are they subject to a search as well?"


Police knew the "all persons" search was unusual. According to Sarasota Police officials, the only time it had been used in this region was during a 2009 case in DeSoto County, so they asked for legal advice from a state prosecutor.


Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend worked with officers as they began to investigate the case and arrived shortly after the warrant was served to answer questions about who they could legally search.


In an interview this week, Arend said police routinely are able to search anyone found inside or outside a home where there is evidence of drug dealing. At the apartments, officers identified an area -- an open lot about the size of a tennis court -- and applied the same logic.


"The officers worked really hard to cover their bases," Arend said, "to make sure people's rights weren't violated, to make sure innocent people were let go quickly."


While building the case, Detective Jeff Steiner started compiling evidence about drug deals at the apartment complex. In an affidavit, Steiner wrote that the shabby lot has long been known as a drug dealer's hangout and that an informant made two undercover buys there in October 2009.


The owner, Steiner said, complained of loiterers, and said people scatter when police arrive. Others hung out all day shooting dice and watching for officers.


Steiner wrote in a search warrant affidavit that, during three months of investigation at the Mediterranean Apartments, he had "not seen any innocent persons who utilize this area to congregate."


At the time, officers also obtained warrants for two units where suspected drug dealers lived.


One man, 28-year-old Sean Spencer, was charged with possession of drugs after officers found 30 prescription pills in a car nearby. Detectives linked Spencer to the car because his name was on paperwork found inside the vehicle. Spencer did not show up for court this week and is being sought by police.


Four others were charged with running from officers; three more face drug possession charges after their apartments in the complex were searched.


At least four people, including an 80-year-old man, were briefly detained and let go without a search. Five people were searched, as were two vehicles, and officers did not find drugs or evidence that they were involved in the narcotics trade.


Arend compared the search to an officer who sees someone swerving in the road and pulls over the driver on suspicion of DUI.


Steiner and Arend also said those searched were not necessarily "innocents" even if they were not carrying drugs.


"These guys are smart," Steiner said. "They know to hide drugs in a garbage can, for instance. So I wouldn't necessarily say the people we searched who didn't have anything on them were not involved."



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