The Supreme Court, in a boost to drug enforcement practices, ruled Monday that police are justified in stopping and questioning people who match a standard "drug courier profile."
The court, in a 7-2 ruling by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, reversed a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.The appeals court in November 1987 ruled that police acted improperly in stopping Andrew Sokolow for questioning based on his appearance at the Honolulu airport in 1984.
Among other reasons, Sokolow was stopped because he had paid cash for his ticket.
The Supreme Court said that "any of these factors is not by itself proof of any illegal conduct and is quite consistent with innocent travel. But we think taken together they amount to reasonable suspicion."
Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan dissented.
Marshall said it is "easy to forget that our interpretations of such rights apply to the innocent and the guilty alike. . . . In sustaining this conviction on the ground that the agents reasonably suspected Sokolow of ongoing criminal activity, the court diminishes the rights of all citizens."
The Sokolow case was of great importance to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which since 1974 has operated a drug courier surveillance program at U.S. airports.
As part of that program, law enforcement officers stop for questioning those people who fit a standard "drug courier profile," which includes such characteristics as paying for tickets with cash, acting evasive and not checking luggage.