240 Days in Jail — for Warning Drivers of DUI Checkpoint

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 23rd, 2016

A few years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that DUI sobriety checkpoints were constitutionally valid.  Michigan v. Sitz.   In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that such checkpoints violated a citizen’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, but held that this was only a "minimal intrusion" into those rights, and that violation was "outweighed" by the government’s interest in apprehending drunk drivers.  See my posts The Slow Death of the Fourth Amendment and Sobriety Checkpoints: The Slippery Slope.

As part of that decision, however, the Court held that law enforcement must provide certain minimum safeguards in establishing those checkpoints.  However, the Court left it up to the states to set up these procedures.  The guidelines are typified by those named by the California Supreme Court in Ingersoll v. Palmer.  These include the requirement that the police agency publish advance notice to the public of the checkpoint, so that citizens could choose to avoid them if they wished.  Since then, cases have also established the principle that drivers who are approaching a checkpoint can turn away — if they can do so safely and without violating traffic laws; the police cannot pull them over for trying to avoid the checkpoint (a restriction that police routinely ignore).

If advance publicity is required, and if drivers can choose to turn away, can’t a citizen lawfully warn drivers that a checkpoint is ahead — assuming he is not obstructing traffic?  


Ohio Man Sentenced to 240 Days for Recording Cops and Holding Up a Sign Warning Drivers of DUI Checkpoint
 
Cleveland, OH.  Feb. 12 - An Ohio man was sentenced to 240 days in jail Thursday for First Amendment-related activities, including attempting to video record police in public and warning drivers of an upcoming DUI checkpoint by holding up a sign….

Odolecki, who was on trial for two incidents involving the Parma Police Department, was convicted of one count of misconduct at the scene of an emergency, two counts of obstruction of official business and one count of disorderly conduct…

The first incident took place on June 13, 2014 where Odolecki was standing on a sidewalk, holding up a sign reading “Checkpoint Ahead. Turn Now!” to warn motorists of an upcoming DUI checkpoint.

He was approached by two cops, one who told them he had the right to stand there with the sign, but he needed to remove the phrase “Turn Now!” from the sign…

Police cited Odolecki for obstructing and had his sign confiscated…

Then on July 29, 2015…Odolecki came across a group of cops gathering around a teenager near a bridge off a busy thoroughfare.  Thinking the teen may have been getting unlawfully harassed, he began recording from across the street before crossing the street to get a better angle.  He stood about 40 feet away with a railing separating himself from the cops when the cops told him to get lost because the teen was having “a real bad day.”…  

 

Odecki was charged with obstructing and misconduct at the scene of an emergency in the second incident, and was later convicted for both incidents and received the maximum jail time.

Eight months in jail for holding up a sign and filming police on a cell phone from 40 feet away….
 

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