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D.C. cancels checkpoint program following U.S. Court of Appeals ruling

Press release

Late yesterday, the D.C. Police Department announced that the Chief of Police was rescinding the so-called “Neighborhood Safety Zone” program. Having had its program declared unconstitutional at the U.S. Court of Appeals, and then subsequently suggesting for months that it would take the case to the Supreme Court, the District of Columbia has now cancelled the military-style checkpoints program.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed the successful lawsuit challenging the military-style checkpoint program whereby police could surround a targeted neighborhood, interrogate people without suspicion, and prohibit entry to those persons who lack a police-defined “legitimate reason” for driving into the neighborhood.

In an unanimous and strongly worded ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declared the District of Columbia’s checkpoint program unconstitutional on July 10, 2009, reversing a lower court ruling in favor of the municipality.

“We hope this puts an end to this chapter of police activity in the District of Columbia,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of four D.C. residents. Verheyden-Hilliard continued: “It’s time for the D.C. government to address the real needs of the communities of Washington, rather than criminalize neighborhoods. The program was not only unconstitutional but, like many of the MPD’s high-profile initiatives, ineffective in addressing crime and community problems.”

“The outcome of this case is extremely significant. If the government had succeeded in establishing military-style checkpoints in D.C., it would have been a model used in urban areas around the country,” stated Carl Messineo, attorney and co-founder of the PCJF.

The U.S. Court of Appeals held that the residents were entitled to a preliminary injunction that would prohibit further implementation of the checkpoints and reversed the lower court ruling denying that injunction. The District had recently sought a full court re-hearing of the case, which was rejected 8-1 by the Court of Appeals on Oct. 15, 2009. Subsequently it moved the court to stay the issuance of the mandate to the lower court which the PCJF opposed. Late yesterday the District filed a withdrawal of that request to the Court of Appeals and announced that it would rescind the order authorizing the program.

The Notice Of Appellee District Of Columbia Of Withdrawal Of Motion For Stay Of Mandate is available to read below.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure constitutional accountability within police practices. The PCJF recently won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD’s unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. PCJF is counsel on still pending class action lawsuits against the District for the mass false arrests of more than 1,000 persons during First Amendment protected demonstrations, among other litigation. The PCJ previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups.