blank.gif (51 bytes) Rural Wrap
Nevada High Court OKs
State Police Bus Seizures

by Dan Steninger

irst, the good news: The chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court has taken a look at what is going on in Winnemucca and he doesn’t like what he sees:

Interstate buses are being commandeered in Winnemucca by small posses of lawmen (calling themselves Narcotics Task Forces). These posses interrogate and sometimes search bus passengers when the buses stop in Winnemucca. They call these forays ‘bus encounters,’ and they admit to at least 75 of these boarding parties. In my opinion, these incursive boarding parties should be stopped because they are violative of state and federal constitutional prohibitions against unlawful searches and seizures.

Now, the bad news: Charles Springer was alone in his opinion, with the other four members of the court giving the green light to the commandeering of private buses.

Yes, while Nevada Highway Patrolmen in Elko and city police in North Las Vegas are throwing up roadblocks at which citizens are forced to prove their innocence to the lawmen, state and county police officers over in Winnemucca have taken to seizing control of buses, posting armed guards at the exits and then demanding to see passengers’ papers and possessions.

While Springer sees a problem here, Justices Miriam Shearing, Bob Rose, Cliff Young and Bill Maupin do not. There was no "seizure" involved, the quartet argued.

Why, some of the passengers even get off the buses to smoke or stretch while their fellows are being interrogated. The defendant in this case—Preston Stevenson, who was caught with 16 grams of one of the many substances prohibited by our legislators—was free to get up and walk away whenever he felt the urge, the four cops and the police dog notwithstanding.

Nonsense, Springer argued, lamenting the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court no longer sees a need to protect our constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures—defined as a search or seizure that is conducted without the benefit of a sworn allegation of probable cause a crime has been committed. The U.S. high court first carved out an exception for searches and seizures that required immediate action (the exigency requirement) to prevent a crime or preserve evidence, but now doesn’t even bother with that: If the government wants to root around in a citizen’s belongings, it’s OK with the court.

Still, just because the U.S. Supreme Court is derelict, Springer argues, that doesn’t prevent Nevada justices from preserving the rights of Nevadans:

"The bus-boarding here exceeds the scope of permissible search and seizure under the Nevada Constitution...." (Although the United States Supreme Court abandoned the exigency requirement for warrantless search of automobiles, Nevada declines to do so.)

Give us time, judge, give us time.

Springer concluded:

I am worried about this practice because innocent passengers should not be subjected to systematic violation of their constitutional rights in the hope that a drug courier might occasionally be apprehended. This court should condemn the practice .…

The rest of us should be worried that instead, this court condoned the practice.  NJ

Dan Steninger is the editorial page editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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