Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Letters to the Editor

December 10, 2012

Testing violates Fourth Amendment

— — While I agree that our region has a significant drug problem, I have some serious issues with legislation that would drug test people receiving public assistance.

Drug tests constitute searches which fall under the purview of the Fourth Amendment. For the government to conduct such searches a warrant should be necessary, or at very least probable cause. What cause does the government have to conduct such a search just because a person is on government assistance? Perhaps such testing would be excusable if the government could prove that there was some sort of underlying issue of immense importance to the state, but studies in Florida have shown that their program is ineffective and overly costly. In other words, there really isn’t a precedent that clearly indicates that the state will get anything out of this law, but we can be sure that the government will be intruding into the lives of many innocent people, and potentially violating their Fourth Amendment rights in the process. The issue at hand is not about whether or not someone has “something to hide,” but whether or not the government has the right to conduct a search of your person without probable cause or a warrant.

Also, the “people that work get drug tested” argument is flawed. When a person enters into a private contract with an employer to do a job, that employer may, as a condition of employment, require a drug test. This is ultimately voluntary on the part of the person seeking employment, and as the employer is generally not a government actor, constitutes a private search rather than one conducted by the government. The Fourth Amendment does not apply to private searches.

Some government policy does require drug testing for people in certain fields of employment, such as railroad employees in some states, and the courts have ruled that there is a compelling state interest in maintaining safety in certain industries.

Given the evidence amounted in other states, there does not appear to be a compelling state interest in mandating drug tests for people on “welfare” (again, see Florida). Rather, I would argue that this policy targets the poor in an unjustly discriminatory manner, and ignores the fact that West Virginia’s drug problem transcends the boundaries of socioeconomic status.

John M. McCormick

Athens

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