Drug Wipes and the Fourth Amendment

Julian Sanchez of Hit and Run reports on law enforcement's flavor of the month--drugwipes. Drugwipes are swabs that an officer wipes across a surface and puts in a vial. A color change signals to the officer that trace amount of amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, and opiates are present. They are being used in schools and elsewhere without search warrants. Julian writes:

A New York Times piece this weekend reports on a hand-held device called DrugWipe that can detect minute residual particles of the most common illegal drugs. Schools are apparently attracted to it as a less intrusive way of "screening" students. I have my doubts: Most people know the factoid that a large proportion of the currency in circulation has detectable traces of cocaine; I'd bet little bits of various drugs are pretty common in our environment.

The interesting question is this: We know that a dog sniff doesn't even count as a search under current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. ....The question then is: What happens when these things become so cheap that they're standard issue for cops, teachers, and possibly others? How long before suspicionless drug swipes are a routine part of a normal day?

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