Police Roadblocks in the New America

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on September 30th, 2008

When the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision validated DUI "sobriety checkpoints" (aka police roadblocks), Chief Justice Rehnquist admitted that they were a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.   However, he wrote in Michigan v. Sitz, the "minimal intrusion" into citizens’ protected right to privacy was "outweighed" by the government’s interest in reducing DUI-caused fatalities.

Although the decision limited the use of roadblocks to apprehension of drunk drivers, it was not difficult to foresee that police would soon go beyond this.  And, in fact, there has been a growing increase in the use of roadblocks for purposes other than DUI detection.  See, for example, my earlier posts Sobriety Checkpoints: The Slippery Slope and The Slow Death of the Fourth Amendment.  Or just look around you….

Police Checkpoint Seeks Illegal Guns

Mt. Vernon, NY.  Sept. 28  -  Drivers entering the city from the Bronx via First Avenue last night encountered the first police checkpoint searching for illegal guns.

Amid flashing lights and flares in the roadway, more than a dozen officers were pulling over every third car to ask for permission to search for guns and check for other crimes such as drunken driving.

Hmmm…..Roadblocks to check for guns "and other crimes" — in other words, stopping you on the highways without probable cause to see if you’re doing anything wrong or have anything illegal in the car.  So much for the Fourth Amendment. 

But then, you don’t have to give the police your "permission to search", right?  Wrong.  Does anyone seriously believe that if you refused permission, you would be sent merrily on your way?

(Thanks to David O’Shea.)

  • koivisto

    Might as well check for citizenship papers, where you are going, where you came from, check for warrants, check vehicle safety, outstanding library dues, outstanding parking tickets, to name a few, and if they like you, you can go. But if there is any suspicion, your in for a long night.

  • RichardAlan

    I agree…

    A private citizen can ask with out rolling down the window all the way; “I’m a private citizen, what’s the nature of this stop? Am I being detained? Am I free to go?”

    Repeat over and over,

  • joe

    Authority like this puts zero checks on police power. Allowing law enforcement to have this kind of authority with potential drunk drivers is always overlooked. However, the second it bleeds into anything else, then it becomes a nightmare for citizens. Looking after 4th Amendment rights for all citizens prevents this sort of activity.