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article imageOp-Ed: America — a Constitution Free Zone

By Donald Quinn     Jan 16, 2014 in Politics
Seizures, strip searches, forced detentions based on simple "reasonable suspicion". The 4th Amendment has officially been neutralized for Americans, and the scary part is most of us don't even realize it.
Based on a recent court ruling the 4th Amendment no longer applies to the majority of American citizens. If you live in Houston, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, or any U.S. city with a port or international airport, an officer can legally search your home, confiscate your belongings and examine your person without the protection of any constitutional rights.
A Federal Judge recently upheld the idea that up to 100 miles from the border, inside the United States, could be seen as being free from the constraints placed by the 4th Amendment. Drumming up a lot of media attention, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applied a formerly coined phrase “Constitution Free Zones” to the ruling, which caused further outrage. While the ACLU is standing against the unmerited seizure of the victim’s laptop, there is a much larger picture to consider. To understand the significance of this recent ruling it is important to understand the law and current happenings across the United States.
Constitution Free Zones is certainly not a new term. The ACLU has been using the term to describe the random stop and searches that occur within 100 miles of the borders of the United States, land and sea, for quite a long time. This is among the first time it has garnered such a degree of national attention. It is concerning that these zones do occur, where law enforcement can randomly stop, search, and seize property without having to adhere to the standards of probable cause. Instead, the standard is far more lenient for the officers who must only have a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity that is left open to their personal interpretation.
The Border Exception dates back to before the Bill of Rights, when the Founding Fathers gave specific waiver to the rule of probable cause for border security agents. In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed which gave authority to search property for 25 miles from a U.S. external border. The Supreme Court ruling in Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 US 266 (1973) reversing a decision that standard search and seizure laws did not apply to someone pulled over 25 miles away from the border, has been ignored. The border exception was put in place to make sure that nothing illicit came across America’s borders, and to that end is perfectly reasonable. The problem arises when the border area is extended well into our country.
Judges are required to uphold the law, not create the law. In that perspective District Judge Edward Korman, a Reagan appointee and a judge with numerous historic rulings, had it right. One cannot fault the judge for upholding existing law, and so the uproar against him is uncalled for. Perhaps it is idealistic to think that judges must do exactly what this judge did in upholding established legislation. It is up to the legislature to pass laws or nullify them as demanded by the American people and America’s best interests.
All of the above are fact, and the reason it is important to discuss the facts is in amidst all the hysteria over some kid’s laptop we have missed a very salient and very dangerous fact.
The 4th Amendment of to the Constitution of the United States, part of the Bill of Rights reads –
“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.”
If anybody is paying attention, it is time to take this particular wording out of the constitution and use it for scrap because it simply has no value in the American judicial and law enforcement systems today. There is nowhere where a person in America can feel completely safe anymore, not against unreasonable searches and seizures. And this is why …
There are 162 international border check points all across the 50 American States. We know them as the place that we go to take off our shoes, coats, and belts so that we can walk through body scanners that will make sure we did not secure explosive material on our person. Other, less wordy people, call them airports.
Airports are the most used border checkpoints in the country for human traffic. Every year millions of people fly to and from the United States and make their way into our borders. According to the ITA Office of Travel and Tourism, 89.7 million people traveled internationally from January through June in 2013. One can pretty safely assume that these points of entry are, in fact, border checkpoints. For those who scoff at the idea of an Airport being an international entry point, pay attention to signs saying “Welcome to the United States of America” on the other side of the Customs and Border Protection agents giving entry into the country. Yes, airports are a border.
This of course, when taken with the Supreme Court’s ruling, means that any house, person, vehicle, cell phone, laptop, baby bottle, wheelchair … can be subjected to search and seizure if a local law enforcement official has a “reasonable suspicion” that there is some crime occurring or about to occur.
For all those people who have been fighting tooth and nail against new gun control laws, in order to uphold the 2nd Amendment, the bad news is apparently it is already a lost cause. If your home, vehicle, or person has a gun within 100 miles of an international border, to include all land and sea borders, ports, and airports, then the law enforcement agent of any stripe can seize that gun on the simple premise that they believe you could be about to commit a crime. Without being called an alarmist, we need to understand that with the stripping of the 4th Amendment under this “constitution free zone” we have already lost the ability to defend ourselves against any other violations of the Bill of Rights. Think I am being a panic monger?
In the story reported in The Tampa Tribune, John Filippidis and his family were pulled over, searched, and detained on the side of the road for up to 90 minutes in Maryland recently. The officer, from the Transportation Authority Police, pulled over the family (kids and all) for a supposed traffic violation despite the fact that they were not speeding. What followed was an ordeal where a police officer tried to get Filippidis to disclose the location of his handgun. How did the officer know that the man had a weapon? Filippidis had a concealed weapons permit for the State of Florida, however, had chosen not to carry his gun on a family road trip this December. Despite being told this repeatedly, the officer searched Filippidis and interrogated him in front of his wife and kids. To add insult to injury, they searched the entire car — under the guise of reasonable suspicion. No due process and certainly no probably cause considering that not even a speeding ticket was awarded, and the department has since issued an apology. My question is, what would the officer have done had Filippidis been carrying his weapon under his 2nd Amendment rights, and what good did the 4th Amendment do a family that had done nothing to attract suspicion other than being legal registered gun owners in a different state?
Assuming for a moment that some people don’t care about the 2nd Amendment, how about a different story?
Memorial Day 2012, two women were on their way home from the beach and still dressed in their bikinis when a Texas State Trooper pulled them over for speeding. Alleging that he smelled marijuana, there’s that “reasonable suspicion” again, the trooper called for female back up. Trooper Jennie Bui responded, put on a pair of gloves and stuck her finger in both women’s private parts. Trooper Bui was apparently more than willing to fulfil Trooper Nathaniel Turner’s claim to the women victims, “We're gonna get familiar with your womanly parts”. The search and seizure lasted for 40 minutes on the side of the freeway with at least four officers looking on. No one interfered, and while Trooper Turner has been dismissed Trooper Bui was rehired by the department shortly after her own dismissal. The story can be found in the New York Daily News. Scarily the department of Public Safety, which conducted the internal investigation, said that it does not permit activity that violates the US Constitution, a direct reference to the 4th Amendment which is apparently not applicable in a “Constitution Free Zone”.
So let’s say you never speed, go to the beach, or have a concealed weapons permit. Let’s say you are a 15 year old boy with learning disabilities in Chicago, or his parents.
William Howard Taft High School became the latest proving grounds for the complete erosion of the 4th Amendment. After receiving an anonymous tip that the 15 year, old boy with emotional disorders had, on his possession, some kind of drugs the child was dragged by two security guards and a female assistant principal into a second floor bathroom. Once there, he alleges, he was pushed up with his face up against the wall while the guards then proceeded to pat him down. Finding nothing based on their searches, the security guards and assistant principal decided that this child must have found a way to stick the drugs in his private parts and proceed to act on their “reasonable suspicion”. They removed his pants and underwear, so the lawsuit goes, and inserted fingers into his private parts while also grabbing his other privates while the female Assistant Principal watched. No drugs were found. The story broke on CBS.
This article will most certainly be categorized as alarmist, and it should be. These stories cannot be dismissed as isolated incidents. If a law enforcement agent can seize personal property, search a vehicle, and has the supreme courts blessing on cavity searches (inside the border exemption zone) then the 4th Amendment is already dead.
In the case of United States v. Montoya De Hernandez 473 U.S. 531 (1985), a pregnant woman was detained for 16 hours because customs officials had reasonable suspicion that she was carrying cocaine in her anal cavity. A strip and cavity search revealed nothing but the officers were determined to Xray her or keep her in custody until she answered the call of nature. As it turns out, in this case, the officers were right, and the cocaine was found, for which the officers deserve commendation. Their methods however, set a trend which was then captured best in Justice Stevens agreement with the decision where he stated
“If a seizure and a search of the person of the kind disclosed by this record may be made on the basis of reasonable suspicion, we must assume that a significant number of innocent persons will be required to undergo similar procedures. The rule announced in this case cannot, therefore, be supported on the ground that respondent's prolonged and humiliating detention "resulted solely from the method by which she chose to smuggle illicit drugs into this country."
“The prolonged detention of respondent was, however, justified by a different choice that respondent made; she withdrew her consent to an x-ray examination that would have easily determined whether the reasonable suspicion that she was concealing contraband was justified. I believe that customs agents may require that a non-pregnant person reasonably suspected of this kind of smuggling submit to an x-ray examination as an incident to a border search. I therefore concur in the judgment”
In other words if a customs agent reasonably suspects that you are carrying drugs into the country, you can be subjected to a thorough cavity search and an X-ray or wait till you have a bowel movement.
Then of course there is the story of 63 year old David Eckert, a New Mexico Scrap Metal Tradesman.
Pulled over for a traffic violation, he failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, David Eckert was then subjected to two X-rays, two digital probes of his anus, three enemas, and a colonoscopy in an attempt to find illicit drugs. After bringing in a drug sniffing dog, based on some level of reasonable suspicion, the police officer was “alerted” by the dog that there were drugs in the car. The reasonable suspicion was reached because Eckert refused to consent to a physical search and according to the officer was clenching his buttocks during the exam. Once the dog had alerted the officers to the scent of drugs Eckert was transported to a local hospital, under the auspices of a warrant duly obtained, and probed by the officer’s fingers twice. He was then given two rounds of X-Rays and three enemas, following which his bowel movements were examined. When all of this failed to produce any result of their reasonable suspicion, the officers ordered a colonoscopy under anesthesia which also failed to produce any drugs. Oh and just to add insult to injury after injury, the hospital sent Eckert a $6,000 bill.
I think the point is well made that the 4th Amendment rights of this country have completely been stripped away. Now if you happen to be one of 197 million people that live within 100 miles of the border, or anywhere else in the United States that is within 100 miles of an airport authorities have complete right to come onto your property, and strip search your wife and children on the grounds of reasonable suspicion. If they decide an anal probe or a cavity search of your family is warranted that too has been allowed by the Supreme Court and the Legislature. Your guns are a foregone conclusion – your dignity; that is about to be seized and raped as well with the courts blessing.
It does not matter if you are a diehard conservative or a committed liberal, if you live in the United States this is an appalling and terrifying state of affairs far greater than partisan politics. Unless the people speak out, unless elected officials have the gall to do something about this, and unless we change course we can and will cross into a place more reminiscent of a police state than the land I put on the uniform and fought to protect. My name is Don Quinn, and I am terrified.
As a Disclaimer: I am a candidate running for Maryland State Senate and have a vested interest in America's people being aware that our rights are being stripped away.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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