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Arizona checkpoint: A search too far

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Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, 8:50 p.m.

Federal officers operating an Arizona checkpoint with state help — ostensibly to reduce shell casings and other litter at popular shooting spots — went too far by searching vehicles, a clear violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

U.S. Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department officers stopped vehicles — about 250 in all — in Redington Pass on Nov. 10, Tucson's KVOA-TV reports. Drivers were warned on the way in against littering. Their vehicles were searched on the way out to ensure they took their trash with them.

Four were arrested on outstanding warrants, and 11 citations — including ones for marijuana possession, underage drinking and an illegally killed deer — were issued. Some drivers favored the littering crackdown.

However worthy that goal mighty have been, the vehicle searches were flat-out wrong. Constitutional compliance requires obtaining warrants based on probable cause to suspect particular individuals, not searching vehicles en masse.

Of course, this checkpoint raises Second Amendment concerns, too — and the way it was run fuels suspicions about the Obama administration's intentions regarding private firearms ownership.

But the bigger concern — for all motorists, not just gun owners — is unconstitutionally searching vehicles indiscriminately. It's a practice that must not be repeated and, if repeated, challenged.

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