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Friday, June 24, 2011

Free State or Police State

by Richard Schwartzman

The enemies of a free state ? and a free people ? are at it again. Not that they ever stopped, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, along with a new directive within the FBI and a city council ordinance in Iowa. make it perfectly clear that the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures is a thing of the past.

The Supreme Court decision, issued in May based on a case from Kentucky, allows police officers to enter a residence without a warrant if they contend that they smelled marijuana or some other drug odor, knocked, identified themselves as police and then heard noises that sounded like evidence being destroyed.

Note the assumption that police really did smell drugs, as if police never lie.

Consider the case in Philadelphia during the 1990s when several officers from the same North Philly precinct were convicted of planting evidence on innocent people. This current ruling runs the risk of making the Philadelphia situation routine across the country.

The specifics in the Kentucky case are these: Police were following a suspect who allegedly sold crack cocaine to an informant. They followed him into an apartment building, but did not see which apartment he entered.

Smelling marijuana coming from one unit, the police knocked, identified themselves and then heard movement and a toilet flushing. So, the cops broke in and arrested the occupant who was not the suspect they were following. They did find some powdered cocaine so the man was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The appellate process took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Judge Samuel Alito Jr. said people don?t have to answer the door when police knock but if police hear movement and the toilet flush, officers may enter without the need for a warrant. In the 8-1 decision, Alito wrote that people who attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame.

The lone dissent came from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who said the court has now given police an easy way to ignore fundamental rights. The decision ?arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement in drug cases,? she wrote.

Compounding this insidious decision from last month is the FBI?s recent decision to permit agents to initiate any investigation or surveillance that they like without any need to show cause for the action.

Judge Andrew Napolitano, on his Freedom Watch program of June 13, said the new policy: ?...would permit [FBI] agents on their own to follow and snoop on anyone they wanted, whether there was any suspicion of criminal activity about that person or not; that it would sort through the garbage of anyone it chose, whether there was any suspicious behavior on the part of whoever used the garbage or not; and that it would search any databases it felt like searching about anyone in whom it was interested, whether there was criminal suspicion about that person or not.?

(To read Napolitano?s complete commentary, go to Those two situations would be hideous enough, but now come the lawmakers from Cedar Falls, Iowa. In 2004, the city council in Cedar Falls enacted an ordinance that required lock boxes on commercial buildings and large apartment complexes. On June 13, the council voted 6-1 to expand the policy to include smaller apartment buildings. It went from a six-apartment minimum to a three-unit minimum.

Tenants are required to place a key to the apartment or property in a universal lock box that firefighters can access so, in case of a fire, they can enter without breaking down the door.

One woman speaking against the expanded measure said that if her apartment were on fire, she wouldn?t care about whether or not firefighters broke the door.

Another rationalization for the ordinance is that if there?s an EMS call, responders can gain access. Again, if it?s a matter of life or death, the door doesn?t matter. Even if it did, those in single dwellings should fork up keys, too. Don?t they deserve to be safe? Don?t their doors deserve the right to remain hinged?

Cedar Falls council members likely got the measure approved because it doesn?t affect the more affluent, those in better neighborhoods with nice houses. It focuses on the poorer in the community, those who rent.

When the law first passed seven years ago, nobody said a word, and now the ordinance has been expanded. Unless people get their act together and get the law overturned, it will expand again, likely to those single-family homeowners.

Think not? When the income tax went into effect in 1914, only those making more than $100,000 per year had to pay. Since nobody cared about the rights of the rich, now the middle class and working poor are paying that tax.

Asset-forfeiture laws were only to be used against organized crime members and drug runners, but forfeiture has been abused. Police across the country routinely confiscate cars and cash without ever charging a person with a crime.

The SCOTUS decision and the Iowa ordinance unfairly target people who live in apartments and condominiums. People in houses don?t have to give spare keys to Cedar Falls authorities ? not yet anyway ? and folks who live in single-family dwellings have a better chance of keeping suspicious odors from escaping.

To paraphrase Thomas Paine, those who fail to safeguard the rights of others whether it?s because of a difference in income, skin color, gender, or for any reason whatsoever will lose their rights, too.

Regardless, though, the FBI is watching whomever they want, for whatever reason they choose.

Free state or police state, it?s your choice.
Richard Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

? 2011 The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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