Indianapolis v. Edmond
Decided Nov. 28, 2000, 531 U.S. 32

Indianapolis' checkpoint programs violated the Fourth Amendment because their primary purpose was indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control and did not fit into the established exceptions to individualized suspicion.


A. Issues Discussed:
Search and seizure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is a highway checkpoint program whose primary purpose is the discovery and interdiction of illegal narcotics constitutional?


A. Background:

"Petitioner city operates vehicle checkpoints on its roads in an effort to interdict unlawful drugs. Respondents, who were each stopped at such a checkpoint, filed suit, claiming that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment.

The District Court denied respondents a preliminary injunction, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the checkpoints contravened the Fourth Amendment."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Kenneth J. Falk argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Jacquelyn E. Bowie, Sean C. Lemieux, and Steven R. Shapiro. A. Scott Chinn argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Anthony W. Overholt, Matthew R. Gutwein, and Thomas M. Fisher.

Patricia A. Millett argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. by Wesley MacNeil Oliver and Barbara Bergman; and for the Rutherford Institute by John W. Whitehead and Steven H. Aden Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Kansas et al. by Carla J. Stovall, Attorney General of Kansas, Stephen R. McAllister, State Solicitor, Jared S. Maag, Assistant Attorney General, and John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney of Connecticut, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Bill Pryor of Alabama, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Bill Lockyer of California, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, James E. Ryan of Illinois, Karen M. Freeman-Wilson of Indiana, Thomas J. Miller of Iowa, Michael C. Moore of Mississippi, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, W. A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Jan Graham of Utah, and Mark L. Earley of Virginia; for the National League of Cities et al. by Richard Ruda and James I. Crowley; and for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. by Daniel J. Popeo.

The Supreme Court held that:

"Because the checkpoint program's primary purpose is indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment.

The rule that a search or seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent individualized suspicion of wrongdoing has limited exceptions. For example, this Court has upheld brief, suspicionless seizures at a fixed checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens, and at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road... However, the Court has never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.

The latter purpose is what principally distinguishes the checkpoints at issue from those the Court has previously approved, which were designed to serve purposes closely related to the problems of policing the border or the necessity of ensuring roadway safety... Securing the border and apprehending drunken drivers are law enforcement activities, and authorities employ arrests and criminal prosecutions to pursue these goals. But if this case were to rest at such a high level of generality, there would be little check on the authorities' ability to construct roadblocks for almost any conceivable law enforcement purpose. The checkpoint program is also not justified by the severe and intractable nature of the drug problem. The gravity of the threat alone cannot be dispositive of questions concerning what means law enforcement may employ to pursue a given purpose. Rather, in determining whether individualized suspicion is required, the Court must consider the nature of the interests threatened and their connection to the particular law enforcement practices at issue."

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit judgment.

Justice Vote: 6 Pro vs. 3 Con
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined dissenting opinion)

The ACLU, as counsel for respondent, urged affirmance of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.