11th Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Fourth Amendment Challenge to Florida’s Suspicionless Drug Testing Program

Press Release February 25, 2013
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<p>Contact: Theshia Naidoo 510-229-5214 or Tommy McDonald 510-229-5215</p>

Today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Lebron v. Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, upheld a preliminary injunction that halted Florida’s law requiring drug testing of public assistance applicants as a condition of receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”).

Florida’s drug testing law was challenged by Navy veteran, single father and University of Central Florida student Luis LeBron who applied for TANF but refused to be drug tested.  His challenge led to a federal trial court order halting the law from taking effect on the grounds that it likely violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

“The 11th Circuit’s decision deals a devastating blow to any state’s attempt to impose suspicionless drug testing as a condition of receiving governmental benefits” says Daniel Abrahamson, director of Legal Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.  “We hope that lawmakers will choose to honor the constitution rather than scapegoat poor people in efforts to address perceived drug problems.”

The Drug Policy Alliance — together with American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, the Legal Action Center, Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, National Employment Law Project, Child Welfare Organizing Project, and National Advocates for Pregnant Women — filed an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief in the case challenging the random drug testing program.  The brief exposed as baseless a key assumption underlining Florida’s law – that persons in need for financial assistance are more likely to use and abuse illicit drugs than other segments of the population.  The brief argued that Florida’s drug testing scheme does not achieve any of its purported goals of protecting the well-being of children, promoting the employability of person on public assistance and assuring fiscal integrity, and does not pass the “special needs” test that is required to justify otherwise unconstitutional searches by government officials.

The court found that the state of Florida “presented no empirical evidence to bolster its special needs argument that suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants is in any way warranted.”  Further it stated, “[t]here is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment.”

The case is Lebron v. Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, Case No. 11-15258; http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/201115258.pdf

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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