Law Enforcement: Traveling From Anywhere To Anywhere Is Suspicious Behavior

from the a-nation-of-300-million-drug-dealers dept

Want to travel from anywhere to anywhere in the United States without being hassled by law enforcement officers? Good luck with that, citizen.

USA Today’s Brad Heath pointed out an interesting footnote in an asset forfeiture filing that made the assertion that traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles is inherently suspicious. (One presumes the opposite is also true.)

If you can’t see the embed, the government’s footnoted assertion reads:

Chicago is a known consumer city for narcotics and Los Angeles is a known source city where narcotics can be purchased.

Also of note: suspect had a backpack, an item used to carry stuff — something no legitimate traveler would possess.

Turns out this sort of ridiculous assertion isn’t limited to this particular filing. Law enforcement agencies are of the firm belief that traveling between any cities where drugs might be “consumed” (which would be every city in the US) and any cities where drugs might be sold (again, the list is long and inclusive) is a healthy indicator of drug-related activity.

The following map lists “known” drug “source” [red] and “destination” [blue] cities, along with links to relevant court filings or statements by law enforcement officials. Pretty much traveling from any large city to anywhere else could be construed as a drug run.

Even though the courts are sometimes unimpressed by this facet of reasonable suspicion, it’s still routinely used to justify searches of all things.

US v. Green

Once we discount the facts with which we find weaknesses, we are left with Green’s arrival on a plane from a known source city, and her vagueness about the purpose of her trip. These facts are insufficient to demonstrate a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

US v. Newland

Given that nearly every stretch of interstate is considered a drug corridor, the fact that a stop occurred on any such route is almost meaningless. See United States v. Wisniewksi, 358 F. Supp. 2d 1074, 1093 (D. Utah 2005) (“[T]raveling on a ‘drug corridor’ cannot reasonably support a suspicion that the traveler is carrying contraband. To so hold would give law enforcement officers reasonable suspicion that every vehicle on every major—and many minor—thoroughfares throughout this country was transporting drugs.”), aff’d, 192 Fed. App’x 749 (10th Cir. 2006). Furthermore, because of courts’ willingness to designate various cities and states as “source” regions for narcotics, it is likely that most major roads in this country could be considered drug corridors. See Foreman, 369 F.3d at 795 (Gregory, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); United States v. Beck, 140 F.3d 1129, 1138 n.3 38 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing cases recognizing, inter alia, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Arizona, the entire West Coast, New Jersey, New York City, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Chicago, and Dallas as drug source cities or states); State v. Quirk, 842 N.E.2d 334, 343 (Ind. 2006) (“[C]onsidering the substantial number of states and cities that have been designated as sources of drugs, a motorist, in our highly mobile society, would be hard pressed not to travel either from, to, or through a drug-source jurisdiction.”).

Speaking of which, if you’re not flying, you’re probably driving. Nearly every major highway in the US can be considered a “drug corridor,” depending on who you ask. These “drug corridors,” also known as “interstate highways,” are prime trolling spots for asset forfeiture. Traveling along these roads subjects out-of-state travelers to instant suspicion and warrantless searches, simply because these roads are also used by drug traffickers. Good luck avoiding using one of these highways during a road trip.

Now, some of you might be saying, “Every one of these cases cited resulted in a law enforcement officer finding drugs! They’re right to be so suspicious!” Well, arrestees have more motivation than most to challenge the constitutionality of a search. Many innocent people who have been illegally searched simply because they’re on one of these roads/in any major airport won’t file a lawsuit. In fact, many people probably believe law enforcement has the right to search people and vehicles simply because of their originating cities and/or destinations. On top of that, many searches and seizures are tied to asset forfeiture, where no conviction is ever obtained and the amount of money seized suddenly seems unimportant when a lawyer informs someone they’d need $5000 or so to even consider fighting the uphill battle to liberate the seized funds.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Chief Judge Richard Arnold — from all the way back in 1992 — explaining the dangers inherent to viewing travellers as drug traffickers simply because of where they’re going or where they’ve come from.

The White opinion is less than three years old, and none of our cases decided since that time has questioned it or thrown doubt upon it in any way. There are differences between the present facts and those in White, to be sure, as there always are, but the differences, on balance, do not place this search and seizure appreciably closer to the line of legality than what happened in White. Like Weaver, White was “very nervous,” he arrived from a source city, the flight was early in the morning, and White had no checked luggage. Some of the facts in White, indeed, appear stronger than the present case: for example, White had purchased his ticket with cash, and it was a one-way ticket. The agents did not know whether Weaver had bought his ticket for cash or not, or whether it was one way. Weaver did not have a copy of his ticket, but sometimes innocent people lose their tickets, to say nothing of ticket coupons which may be of no further use to them. I have lost tickets myself. Weaver had no identification, or at least declined to produce any, but this was his undoubted right: we have not yet come to the point in this country (except maybe in airports) when citizens must identify themselves to public employees.


Airports are on the verge of becoming war zones, where anyone is liable to be stopped, questioned, and even searched merely on the basis of the on-the-spot exercise of discretion by police officers. The liberty of the citizen, in my view, is seriously threatened by this practice. The sanctity of private property, a precious human right, is endangered. It’s hard to work up much sympathy for Weaver. He’s getting what he deserves, in a sense. What is missing here, though, is an awareness that law enforcement is a broad concept. It includes enforcement of the Bill of Rights, as well as enforcement of criminal statutes. Cases in which innocent travelers are stopped and impeded in their lawful activities don’t come to court. They go on their way, too busy to bring a lawsuit against the officious agents who have detained them. If the Fourth Amendment is to be enforced, therefore, it must be by way of motions to suppress in cases like this.

This is America, post-declaration of (drug) war. This has been 40 years in development. Now, we’ve added the faulty assumptions of the post-9/11 “national security above all” mindset to it. Traveling from anywhere to anywhere is to invite the suspicions of our nation’s domestic “warriors” who patrol our airports and highways, ever-vigilant for the opportunity to rip open luggage or toss a rented car in hopes of finding drugs… or better yet, cold, hard cash.

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Comments on “Law Enforcement: Traveling From Anywhere To Anywhere Is Suspicious Behavior”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Weird/funny thing… I’m functionally agoraphobic, and I pretty much only go out late at night, and get way more than my share of FedEx and UPS deliveries (Amazon is an enabler!). I’m willing to bet this (plus other little things) creates enough of a pattern to be put on at least one list of ‘people to be suspicious of’.

* – OK, it’s called Social Anxiety Disorder now, but I’m old-fashioned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Talk about grasping at straws...

…Also of note: suspect had a backpack, an item used to carry stuff — something no legitimate traveler would possess…

I see backpacks all the F’n time, at airports, bus stops, train stations, and even damn near every school!

(If that was sarcasm, sorry that I missed it, but backpacks by themselves should not be probable cause for any stop.)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Too much Hippy LDS in America

Look up Brian Keith Dalton, an ex-Mormon who is my source of culty, secret-society lore regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

An Underground Education by Richard Zacks presents a solid case for the Mormon Dogma being used by Brigham Young as a mechanism to hook up with young women (by convincing them that Jesus requires them to have sex with him right now), but I’m pretty sure that’s standard protocol for any charismatic cult leader.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: The end of law

I think this whole thread ties in nicely with the bits regarding prosecutorial discretion. Once the police always have cause to bust you and the DA can always find cause to jail you, then our state becomes authoritarianism.

Which is mostly okay so long as we have wise rulers (even Julius would bury his enemies). But a couple of Caligulas and Joffreys (or worse, Tomlins with Cerseis behind them) and we’ll rapidly be reminded why we tried to get away from all that.

Talk about one step forward, three steps back.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course it is a gateway drug. That’s what the police told me, that’s what many politicians in the EU say so it must be true.
And when a police officer stopped me with a few grams of weed he told me to smoke a cigarette to calm down. Then while we were smoking he told me that weed is really really bad for my health. true story
Now, if you excuse me. I have to calm myself down with a few packs of cigarettes and 2 bottles of vodka because those things are harmless.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course pot is a gateway drug. After pot was legalized in Colorado, the whole state is now hooked on hardcore drugs. Just look at Denver- the whole city is nothing but a druggie wasteland.

Oh, wait, that didn’t happen? And Colorado is bringing in tons of tax revenue from the sale of pot? And the number of people in prison has been reduced since they’re not arresting casual pot users?
Nah, it’s definitely a gateway drug.

Ryunosuke says:

Dear Mr Cushing....

I see your article is traveling to and from a major city outside of your residence, is your article therefor transporting drugs and/or money to buy drugs? What is the business of your article to traveling to major hubs of drug trafficking? Why is your article using a major drug trafficking network?

/end sarcasm

Anonymous Coward says:

Parallel construction

There is often a method to this madness. The cops naturally don’t want to give away their profiling methods, so they invent bullshit reasons for why they targeted someone for “special attention”.

And so this will be their official story — even if it means lying under oath.

On the other hand, that’s not to say that all cops that appear to be playing dumb are sly as a fox. Many cops really are complete idiots.

Personanongrata says:

This is not America

Good luck with that, citizen.


There aren’t many American citizens remaining in the once was republic. The majority of the population appears to be well conditioned serfs who willingly genuflect to the criminally insane, their masters, the “officials” and “authorities” infesting all levels of government when commanded to do so (some are so well conditioned they genuflect without being ordered).

America….. America…. where have you gone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Traveling to the source?

They searched him for traveling TO (not from) a drug source. So, in theory, they didn’t have any reason to suspect that he would be carrying drugs.

In their twisted minds, they might suspect travelers to LAX of having money to purchase drugs, but there’s no law against domestic travel with cash. Unless they hope to find a little note tied to money saying, “For the purchase of illegal drugs”, what do they hope to accomplish by searching people traveling to a supposed drug source?

tqk (profile) says:

“Every one of these cases cited resulted in a law enforcement officer finding drugs! They’re right to be so suspicious!”

Or, illicit drug use is so ubuiquitous (or easily mfgr’d), you may find illicit drugs on everyone you arrest. Feature! Hell, plant some on them. They’re likely hippies/minorities anyway (aka nobody).

Prohibition v. 2. They learned from v. 1: how to implement a police state and blame it on saving the public from “Demon Rum”, or whatever else comes up.

It’s just how Caesar rules, and has done for millennia. We should be used to it by now.

Dan morgan says:

freedom of travel

Well, have you ever heard one of our wonderfully liberty deficient leaders, make a statement, along this line” well it’s not in the constitution, so we can regulate it” just like cars! Just goes to show you how much the care about our liberties, and how far our law enforcement.will stoop. to enforce laws, contrary to the constitution they swore. to . to honor, and protect! Only to march us down the road to become ,nothing more than a dictatorship! Please welcome the police state courtesy of bad leaders and their friends in law enforcement!

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