Blawgers: Consent to Bag Search?

It's all over the news (and even on Crimlaw), so I think that we might as well open it up for discussion.

If your route to work involved a bag search, would you consent to the search?

I certainly think there's something to be said for saying no and doing your little part to preserve the Constitution.

But, on the other hand, like everyone else, I care about safety too. I mean, personally, I'd feel more comfortable flying if we had the kind of security that El Al has (and has had for a long time).

If my daily commute were to put me at risk for a bag search, I still wouldn't worry too much... I don't think too many young, blonde women are going to be searched. But, if they are, I would expect that it's just a cover so that the suspicious or minority person behind her can be searched too. And, would I want to be used like that?

In law school, I did a street law program, where the number two thing we tried to teach the kids was "DON'T CONSENT TO SEARCHES!" (Number one was, of course, "DON'T TALK TO THE POLICE!"). Does that not matter anymore?

And, as far as the argument of "If you don't have anything to hide, there's nothing wrong with it," I hope that I don't even have to try to explain the slippery slope argument that is opened up by this.

So, anyone else want to weigh in? How about all of you law students? Would you hand over your bag? What if your other alternative is just... well... not going to work? Or being hours late? (Although, seriously, I think that, at least at a public defender's office, you should be able to call in sick-of-having-my-civil-liberties-violated.)


  1. It's really no different than having your bags checked at the airport... or before entering a courthouse. In Chicago, many office buildings, Sears Tower among them, did bag screening for every employee or guest entering the building.

    In the end, I'm all for anything that gets me where I'm going and back safely.

  2. No way in hell am I letting someone search my stuff before I use public transportation. At the airports, I was dealing with private carriers who could refuse service, but I'm not going to put up with that kind of intrusiveness on public transportation. I've got rights! And I intend to use them! what I'd like to say. If my history of confrontations with authority is any guide, however, I'll probably wimp out and let them search because, you know, I don't want to cause trouble. Sigh.

  3. I'm with Windypundit. I bet I'd muster a really good glare though. That's what I did when my bus got searched last winter. Glared and muttered. I hate feeling that powerless.

  4. To me this doesn't seem different than searching your bags before going into a court house. But I'd have to say that if what they are looking for is explosives and weapons, then I would be willing to let them look ONLY for that type of thing. I think it's a little different than other searches (e.g. during a traffic stop) where they're hoping to find some kind of contraband, meaning I think it's different because I think what the cops hope to accomplish and their purpose for the search is different.

    But if I was just randomly stopped in my car or on the street, then NO, Mr. Officer, you may not search. I'll wait for the warrant.

  5. Imagining what an explosion and shards of hot metal shrapnel would feel like as the search is going on will help you feel better about it.

    Don't take anything you don't want authorities to find on public transportation.

    I don't mind. I'd rather not be murdered.

  6. It's a little bit sad how people have so easily given up their freedom.

  7. This is nothing but security theater and an excuse to catch the guy who forgot to leave his weed at home. You're allowed to refuse the search and leave, so there's zero chance of finding a bomb.

    So let's summarize:

    - This wastes cop's time - they could be out doing something that actually improved security,
    - It is an excuse to bust dumb/forgetful people,
    - It conditions people to accept intrusive searches ("I'd stand up for my 4th amendment rights, but I'm running late.")

    If you don't believe this is worthless, let's do some math:

    Roughly 6 million people ride the MTA every day. If you assume a cop can shake people down at a rate of 2 minutes per search and can work nonstop, that's 240 searchs per cop-day. (The real rate is going to be lower than that, but this is a thought experiment. This means that for each 250 cops, (roughly 1 work year of cop effort per day), you can search slightly less than 1% of the ridership. Full coverage (search eveyone) would be 26000 cops, or 104 work years of cost per day. The wages + benefits of a first year cop in NYC averages $44000. Actual cost to the city is probably closer to $60000. (Couldn't find an average across all cops, but it is certainly higher.)

    Think about that: for the cost of $60K per day, or $21.9 million per year, we reduce the chance of a mad bomber getting on the subway by slightly less than 1%. We don't catch them: they're free to leave and try again. (This doesn't count the cost of the time of people being searched.)

    So, strictly aside from the issue of lost freedoms, does anyone think this is an economically wise approach to reducing the risk of terrorism on the subways?

    And even if we searched everyone (at a cost of 2.2 billion a year, in my back of the envelope figuring), all this does is encourage bombers to go to some other target. What now?

    I live in Brooklyn. I tend to think of this as just another dumb No Civil Servant Left Behind waste of money, plus the need for politicians to be seen Doing Something. I'd rather they do something less intrusive and wasteful, and if someone asks to search me, I will refuse on principle.

    I do wish, though, those who support this sort of thing would think critically about what sort of efforts actually will help - even if you set aside the loss of rights, this is a bad security measure.

  8. 2 people mentioned a search of bags ag the courthouse. I will just say this, then. I don't get my bags searched at the courthouse, I don't even walk through a metal detector - I just show my attorney ID. The people who are searched are accused criminals and their families. (At my courthouse at least, even jurors show an ID and walk past the metal detectors once their sworn in as jurors.)

    AND I'd feel safer with x-rays or metal detectors - because at least they're searching every bag in its entirety. Searching every 5th or 10th bag, and only unzipping the top, maybe poking around, doesn't do as much. If someone really wanted to sneak something on the train, they might just be able to leave, and walk in another entrance, or get a different spot in line. Or even just conceal their bomb a little better under a piece of clothing or something.

  9. Hell no! For several reasons:

    * Putting up with violations of the Constitution only ensures there will be more of them.

    * All of history's major Fascist regimes got their start through the prolonged use of emergency powers, and always (at least initially) with the best of intentions.

    * Mathematically, terrorist attacks are not worth worrying about -- their probability is comparable to getting struck on the head by lightning. But even if there were a thousand times as many active terrorists, "preventative" actions such as these searches do not help prevent them. Indeed, by disarming citizens who would otherwise arm themselves (at least in the 33 states that have enacted "right-to-carry" laws), the police have assured the terrorists that no victim or bystander will be in a position to effectively resist them.

    * But most importantly, turning America and the other free countries into "papers please!" regimes is exactly what the terrorists want to accomplish with their attacks.

    So long as these searches and similar measures persist, I will simply avoid traveling by public transportation or air. But that's only a start.

    America's existing law enforcement agencies and ordinary courts are perfectly capable of stopping terrorism if they'd just do their jobs. America does not need, and cannot afford, to have a Gulag or a Gestapo.

    Please, join me in writing our representatives and opposing the high-handed powers given by the USA PATRIOT Act and its successor laws while we're still allowed to.

  10. So I was searched for the first time today, at my fairly sleepy Park Slope subway stop. It was, to say the least, pretty absurd.

    It's one of those small stations where there's only one small alcove/token booth, with an entrance on each side of the street for the train in either direction. Anyway, from the top of the stairs, I could see a cop standing at the bottom, along with a huge sign about random searches. As I near the bottom, she makes eye contact with me, and I can tell I'm gonna get searched.

    So she asked me to walk over to a big card table next to the token booth, behind which 4! cops were standing idly, talking to each other . . . The search itself took maybe 15-30 seconds.

    Meanwhile, I kept an eye out at the window at the next coupla stops toward the city. Nothing, no cops. Think about that. If somebody actually had something, saw the sign from the top, chose not to go down the stairs, and just walked to the next station . . .

    It just shows the utter futility of the whole thing.

    So as a criminal defense attorney in the making (and, sort of one as a student), why did I submit? I guess it's because of the cops' attitude. I.e., I could have walked away, refused.

    But I'd like to think that if a cop cornered me in a different situation, tried to "ask" me to open my bag under different circumstances, absent reasonable suspicion, I'd refuse. At least I'd like to think so. Hopefully my guts are as large as my mouth . . .

  11. you stupid blonde