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Lawyers See Problems With Drug Testing Plan

President Clinton believes his plan to seek drug tests for everyone arrested on federal charges will help keep dangerous criminals off the streets. A defense lawyers group says the idea has constitutional problems.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Friday the plan, which Clinton will announce Monday, will establish a policy in which federal prosecutors move to drug test anyone in the federal criminal justice system prior to setting bail.

“Next they’ll want to stop us all on the street and order us to urinate into bottles,” said Robert Fogelnest, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

McCurry said the results of the tests will help determine the conditions of bail for people who use drugs or refuse to be tested.

“It obviously responds to what we see as a very direct link between drug use and crime,” McCurry said. “And it would make it more possible that we could keep dangerous criminals off the streets in periods when they might pose risks to law-abiding American citizens.”

While the roughly 60,000 people arrested on federal criminal charges each year cannot be compelled to submit to drug testing, they can be asked to do so. Under the new policy, federal prosecutors will ask magistrates to keep people in jail if they refuse to undergo testing.

“If you’re arrested, you’re presumed innocent, and the Eighth Amendment says you have a right to be freed pending trial. The only exceptions are if the judge finds that a person is dangerous or might not show up for trial,” Fogelnest objected.

“U.S. attorneys have no right to make your willingness to take a drug test a condition of release or an issue at a bail hearing. Under our Constitution, that’s not a permissible reason for a judge to keep citizens in jail,” he added.

Clinton’s executive order establishing the policy also will direct Attorney General Janet Reno to devise ways of encouraging state governments to implement similar drug-testing policies.