News Release ~ 04/05/1999

 Searching Auto Passengers 

Statement of Amicus Curiae, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Washington, DC (April 5, 1999) -- In response to today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to permit searches of automobile passengers when only the driver is suspected of criminal conduct, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) issued the following statement. NACDL filed a friend of the court brief in the case, Wyoming v. Houghton, No. 98-184, supporting the decision of the Wyoming Supreme Court which declared warrantless searches of passengers’ purses and briefcases unconstitutional.

"We’re becoming a police state," said NACDL President Larry S. Pozner, of Denver. "This ruling tells the police that when they pull over a car to investigate the driver, they can search any one of us in the vehicle for any reason or no reason whatsoever. We have reached the point where honest citizens must fear the police -- none of us is safe under this ruling.

"Freedom is preserved by setting clear limits for law enforcement. The Founders, who had good reason to fear unlimited police powers, would be horrified at this ruling. No wonder an ever-increasing number of Americans say they don’t trust their government. The Bill of Rights will soon just be a piece of paper under glass rather than a living shield against governmental abuse of citizens’ rights. The Court has again sacrificed law for order, in the name of ‘law and order.’"

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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