The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against searches and seizures that are not based on a suspicion of individual wrongdoing. In a 6-3 ruling, the court determined that police roadblocks in Indiana that were designed to catch drug traffickers or other criminals infringed on constitutional protections. That was a wise decision.

Although the roadblocks were established with the intent of catching drug dealers who used their cars to do business, the court found that the stops and use of drug-sniffing dogs violated motorists' privacy. "If this case were to rest on such a high level of generality, there would be little check on the authorities' ability to construct roadblocks for almost any conceivable law enforcement purpose," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The court, appropriately, ruled on the side of privacy, upholding the Fourth Amendment principle that police cannot conduct a criminal investigation without cause. That is a principle the nation's founders embraced after suffering years of abuse under British rule.

But the ruling was not absolute. It was artful in that it drew a distinction between roadblocks to catch drug dealers and checkpoints to catch drunken drivers and illegal immigrants, which the court previous had upheld.

O'Connor, writing for the majority, said the purpose of the checkpoint made all the difference. A sobriety checkpoint serves to protect the public from an "immediate, vehicle-bound threat to life and limb," while the roadblocks for drug detection primarily served the ordinary law-enforcement interest in crime control.

While this page supports the efforts of law enforcement, the facts of the Indianapolis case suggest their efforts to stop all motorists in the name of "crime control" encroached on individual privacy. Indianapolis police pulled over cars in sequence, checked driver licenses and registrations and then walked a specially trained dog around the cars to sniff for drugs. The police stopped more than 1,100 cars and made more than 100 arrests. More than half were for drug-related crimes, and the rest were for license problems or other offenses.

In Utah, state statute permits administrative traffic stops, in which police check for valid driver licenses, insurance, vehicle registrations and traffic-related offenses, which could include a burned-out taillight or a drunken driving offense. According to civil rights attorneys, the Utah statute would not have covered the drug roadblocks conducted in Indianapolis. Because of that, the new ruling likely will not have much impact in Utah.

However, it is an important decision in the respect that several communities nationwide were planning to adopt the Indianapolis program if the court upheld it.

While there is certainly a societal interest in bringing drug dealers to justice, the Supreme Court was prudent to recognize that threat in this case was not sufficient to justify a weakening of privacy protections.