Terrorism and Gun Violation Sweeps in TN and OH Fail to Turn up Terrorists or Guns

The Supreme Court decision defending the use of evidence found in searches for other crimes may have given sanction for broader law enforcement searches at the highest level in the United States, but that doesn’t affect John and Jane Q. Public until your state or local law enforcement agency takes the liberty to do so. That day, unfortunately, may be here.

Officers in Tennessee and Ohio have taken the opportunity provided by broadly-termed sting operations to hand out thousands of citations for unrelated offenses. In Tennessee, the crime sweep was called “Operation Sudden Impact” and was billed as an “anti-terrorist initiative.” Ohio titled its efforts less creatively with the more straightforward moniker, “Gun Violence Reduction Sweep.”

Perhaps the colorful titles may have been less misleading if law officers had actually accomplished any of the goals established in the titles.

In Tennessee, as the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports, officers involved in the “anti-terrorism” sweep had a broad range of activities-”everything from the serving of fugitive warrants to spot checks of boats on the Mississippi River to ensuring drivers in Tipton County had their children properly fastened into child safety seats”-but didn’t catch a single terrorist.

And the story was similar for the “gun” sweep in Ohio. Though nearly 100 officers from police, sheriff and highway patrol departments, as well as other government officials, were involved in the sweep, and 72 individuals were arrested and charged with 115 crimes, not a single gun was found. (“No guns were confiscated in the Friday-Saturday action, [Akron police lt. Rick] Edwards said.” From the Akron Beacon-Journal.)

No doubt, if any of the officers had encountered terrorist suspects or illegally-owned guns in the course of their sweep, they would have duly dealt with these crimes. However, the fact that they did not encounter even a single instance of the crime in question suggests that their sweeps were only nominally based on the stated aims. As such, in terms of illegal search laws covered by the Fourth Amendment, the charges made during these sweeps are questionable at best.

There is a fine line between finding contraband while performing a search in good faith under a reasonable suspicion, and using a concocted, predetermined stop to catch “whatever” comes along. DUI checkpoints have faced scrutiny over just this fine distinction over the years, leading to explicit promotion of checkpoints in local media before their implementation.

Of course, reasoning whether or not these are potentially unlawful searches should be left to criminal defense lawyers. But it’s a fair warning to ordinary citizens minding their own business: the long arm of the law seems to have grown some.