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Group Appeals Ruling on Police Checkpoints

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 9, 2009

A civil liberties group pressed its challenge of D.C. police checkpoints yesterday, asking an appeals court to overturn a ruling last year that cleared the way for authorities to continue using the tactic.

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D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has said she is open to using checkpoints again in response to violence, as she did last summer, when police deployed checkpoints in Trinidad, a Northeast Washington neighborhood near Gallaudet University.

Police said the checkpoints were intended to prevent drive-by shootings, and residents in the Trinidad area had pushed for action after a spate of violence that included a triple homicide. Drivers had to prove to police that they were residents or provide another "legitimate" reason before being allowed to drive into the neighborhood.

The roadblocks soon drew complaints from those who said police had no right to ask drivers such broad questions.

The civil liberties group, the Partnership for Civil Justice, sued D.C. police in federal court in an attempt to block the department from using the tactics in the future.

In October, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon refused to grant an injunction and strongly endorsed the checkpoints.

The Partnership for Civil Justice appealed. Yesterday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for the group, said Leon had erred in his ruling and urged the judges to reverse the decision.

The District's attorney, Todd Kim, told the judges that the checkpoints were a legal way to combat violence.

But the judges seemed skeptical of the District's arguments and pressed Kim about whether the checkpoints were narrowly tailored enough to survive constitutional scrutiny.

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