Ferry Searches During Times of Crisis
Written by Margaret Fisher, Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). For more information, contact AOC Court Services, 1206 Quince Street SE, PO Box 41170, Olympia, WA 98504-1170. For an electronic copy of this lesson, or to view other lesson plans, visit Educational Resources on the Washington Courts Web site at: www.courts.wa.gov/education/.
One class period (approximately 50 minutes)
One copy of Handout 1 (Ferry Search Case Study) for each student
Scale that measures how much information and what kind of information.
No Information means the officer doesn't know anything about the location of evidence linked to a crime.
Hunch means the officer has a gut feeling that something is not right, but the officer cannot point to any specific facts; it is something like intuition.
Suspicion means the officer knows a minor fact or knows some larger fact from an unknown or unreliable source that suggests evidence may be located somewhere. For instance, an officer stops a person on the street to ask a question, and the person quickly puts a hand in a pocket. Or, the officer may find a piece of paper on the street, which says that a particular person is selling drugs.
Reasonable Grounds (also called Reasonable Belief and Reasonable Suspicion) means the officer knows several minor facts, or a larger fact, or a large fact from a source of unknown reliability that points to a particular person engaging in some criminal activity. For example, a teacher standing outside a girls' lavatory smells cigarette smoke coming from the lavatory. The only two girls in the lavatory then leave together. The teacher has reasonable grounds, but not probable cause, to believe the girls have cigarettes in their purses (a violation of a school rule).
Probable Cause means an officer has enough evidence to lead a reasonable person to believe that the items searched for are connected with criminal activity and will be found in the place to be searched. For example, an increase of 200 to 300 percent in power consumption within a building is not enough alone to establish probable cause to believe that a drug-growing operation is under way inside. However, such an increase, with other suspicious facts including an anonymous phone call claiming that people at a certain place are growing drugs, is enough for probable cause and a search warrant.
Preponderance of the Evidence is the amount of evidence needed to be successful when suing in a civil case. It means that evidence must be "more likely than not," or more than 50 percent.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is the highest amount of proof; it is required to convict a person of a criminal charge.
Certainty means that there is not even an unreasonable doubt as to its truth.
Tell students there are many exceptions to the search warrant requirement in Washington. Brainstorm a quick list without expanding on the exceptions: incident to a lawful arrest, emergency searches, plain view, consent searches, appropriate investigative stop and frisk for weapons, exigent circumstances with probable cause to search, incident to hot pursuit of fleeing felon, vehicles, proper inventory searches, and schools.
Tell students that this class will focus on random searches of passenger vehicles seeking to board state ferries, which is not yet one of the exceptions. Clarify that students understand that random means that there was no information known to the officer prior to the search that illegal items might be found in that specific vehicle.
In the unlikely event that all students vote the same way, ask students to think like lawyers and provide the arguments to support the other view. Allow up to 15 minutes for group responses and discussion.
Students’ viewpoints in favor of the searches may include that the risk of harm is at least equal to the problems at airports where these type searches are legal; the intrusion is minimal; and other arguments.
Viewpoints against the searches may include issues such as how long the state of crisis will last, since terrorism is an on-going problem; democracy is risky; the terrorists win if citizens give up their privacy rights; the constitution has only limited exceptions to the warrant requirement and should not allow for expansions; and other arguments.
However, on July 1, 2003, the Homeland Security Department announced new security rules that affect the whole maritime industry, including 10,000 ships and 5,000 coastal facilities. U.S. Transportation Secretary said America's ports are more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than any other part of the transportation industry. The new rules did not mandate car and passenger screening on ferries, but they do require that ferry operators come up with a new, tighter security plan that could include such screenings. In March 2005, the Governor created the Vessel and Terminal Security (VATS), a new division within the Washington State Patrol, to increase coordination and security efforts for the state’s ferries system. Under normal security conditions, officers with explosive-sniffing dogs patrol the lines of vehicles and foot passengers before boarding. If the dogs hit on something, they'll do a further search of the passenger and the vehicle. If the security level were raised to a higher state of alert, this could change.
Ferry Searches During Times of Crisis
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