Today I’d like to talk about legal traffic stops and road side checkpoints. There’s line in the sand, or in this case, a line in the road which separates a lawful traffic stop and something which goes beyond; but that line keeps moving. The 4th Amendment included in the Bill of Rights states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Bill of Rights was written by our founders with the idea individuals were not to be stopped by agents of the government for any reason without probable cause. Randomly stopping individuals has been properly equated with oppression and tyranny; something the King of England had been inflicting on the colonies in order to bring them into subjugation.
Cars hadn’t been invented at the time and it has been left up to us to figure out what constitutes an encroachment of the 4th Amendment upon the driver of a vehicle under modern conditions; but I can tell you this, individuals drive cars and are under the same protection as any other individual when it comes to oppression and tyranny.
Having stopped many vehicles for traffic violations while serving as a police officer it was a requirement under the law to have Observed a violation prior to stopping any vehicle. Once a violation had been Observed the driver of the vehicle could then be required to pull over and present a valid drivers license. If another violation came to light during that legally Observed traffic stop, such as a strong odor of alcohol indicating the possibility that the driver might be intoxicated, at that time further investigation was permitted under the law.
There’s an article by Adam W. Lasker about the legality of DUI traffic stops in the State of Illinois which caught my attention as it brought up subtle changes in language which are important in understanding how government is able to award itself powers never delegated to it by We The People.
‘“Reasonable suspicion,” not the more exacting “probable cause,” is threshold requirement for an investigatory traffic stop, the Illinois Supreme Court held in a recent DUI ruling.”
In the case brought before the courts the police officer Observed the suspect’s vehicle cross the line which raised the officer’s suspicions that the driver might be intoxicated. Rather than call such an observation Probable Cause the state decided to call it Reasonable Suspicion and so a crack was created in which common sense might later be laid aside or worse, a power grab by the state by lowering a long established requirement or standard.
You’d think the requirements for a proper traffic stop would be held to the same standard in all 50 states; but you’d be wrong.
Some states work on the principle that if you’re driving on a public road then the 4th Amendment doesn’t apply because the safety of the public trumps any presumed individual right or protection from being randomly stopped, questioned or searched.
Another writer who goes under the handle, Fake Consultant, posted an intriguing article, On Traffic Checkpoints, Part Two, Or, When Does Safety Become Siege?, addressing the ever increasing distance our government has placed between the 4th Amendment’s intent and the application of it as pertain to police traffic stops.
Fake Consultant set the tone with a history of Border Patrol stops and searches referenced in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, in which the Supreme Court determined Probable Cause was NOT required in Border Patrol searches and United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, which basically found the 4th Amendment irrelevant. In the end our Supreme Court came to the conclusion:
“The Government had argued that it was impractical to find probable cause before conducting this type of search; therefore they were justified in ignoring the Fourth Amendment and establishing this checkpoint.
The Court agreed, and justified this conclusion by deciding that the searches were not “unreasonable”, and therefore a warrant was not required. Justices Brennan and Marshall, in dissent, reminded the majority that the inconvenience of the Government was no excuse for ignoring the clear language of the Constitution.”
Were these decisions limited strictly to the true borders of our United States then perhaps We The People might recognize that our best interests were at the heart of the matter; however, as with most encroachments upon individual liberties, usurpation of power leads to expansion of power, oppression and tyranny.
Homeland Security has declared the true borders of our United States go far beyond the actual crossing points between our nation and others; so much so that anything within 100 miles of the actual crossing constitutes the ‘border’.
In this article blatant usurpation of power by our government comes into focus.
* “…searches can take place even in the absence of any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.”
* ‘“particularized suspicion” was not required for a border search.”
* “…Limiting searches “would only reward those individuals who, either because of the nature of their contraband or the sophistication of their criminal enterprise, hide their contraband more cleverly or would be inclined to seek entry at more vulnerable points less equipped to discover them.”
That brings us back to my original question regarding Traffic Checkpoint Stops for the sole purpose of removing DWI/DUI suspects under the Supreme Court’s ruling that such stops don’t violate an individual’s free movement in society and are therefore within the limits of the 4th Amendment.
In a Michigan case brought before the Supreme Court of the United States it was argued that random traffic checkpoints were ineffective and “subjectively” too intrusive to be justified under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.”
“The Majority Opinion notes that the average motorist stop was 25 seconds, which they felt was a minimal degree of “objective” intrusion (an opinion shared by the State Court)…but they found no substantial “subjective” intrusion.
This is because, in their opinion, the average motorist should have no “fear or surprise” regarding a checkpoint. An examination of the ruling shows no recognition of any other factor as contributing to a subjective intrusion, including motorist annoyance or resentment.”
Did you feel that slap in the face? “Hey, it’s no big deal…We’re saying it’s okay for the police to violate your rights because it’s only a few seconds; get over it!” I guess that same logic could be applied to rape victims, “Hey, it’s no big deal, it only lasted for a little while, get over it!”
I have news for the members of the Supreme Court, any stop, regardless of the duration of that stop, without probable cause, or perhaps the less stringent application of “reasonable suspicion” is an unacceptable infringement upon our inalienable right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures.
Without an Observed violation of law Any traffic stop becomes an infringement and no altering of the English language justifies marginalization of the original intent to prevent government from oppressing individuals for any reason.
As these decisions are applied in unison the intent of the Bill of Rights to protect individuals from oppression and tyranny dissolves before our very eyes.
The courts have created powers never intended or permitted under our constitutional republican form of government by stretching the meaning and definitions of words, words which at one time held limited meaning. Tyranny is unacceptable, even when done under the guise of protecting society from sexual perverts or drunk drivers.
The courts have crossed the line and need to be pulled over for usurpation of powers never granted them by We The People.
The Moral Liberal’s Senior Editor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Houston police officer, self-employed locksmith, and gifted political and social commentator. His popular and insightful blog, T.F. Sterns Rantings, has been up and at it since January of 2005.