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Join the conversation! There are now 16 comments on this chapter's page 74. Checkpoints: About Cars, Not Crime. What are your thoughts?
  1. Kevin says

    How can the police explain pulling over cars headed to a music festival and checking them for drugs? This happens every year in Coffee County, Tennessee, when people on their way to Bonnaroo get pulled over and cited for drugs or other stuff. They usually pull over cars that look like they’re headed to the festival (have soap “Roo or bust!” on the window, etc.).

    How can that not count as abuse or random/picking out who they want to pull over? Going to a festival where there are drug users is not probable cause.

    • Well, they don’t need probable cause for a stop, just reasonable suspicion. I don’t know if looking like you’re going to the music festival counts as reasonable suspicion, but I would guess it does based on the cops training and experience. Even if it doesn’t count, though, they can pull you over for the tiniest traffic violation. From there, they can frisk the car, and if you give consent, search it.

      See? I learned something from this comic!

  2. Jared says

    This has been a fascinating read so far. Just started with it yesterday, and it’s interesting to see what *actually* is supposed to go on within the justice system.

  3. Andrew Farrell says

    If there was a car stolen recently, could they set up one of these checkpoints and look for someone exhibiting nervous body language to give them reasonable suspicion?

    • It wouldn’t make sense to do so — they’d have to be stopping cars that obviously couldn’t be the one that was stolen. A roadblock in this case would be overkill. And that would probably make it unlawful.

      That doesn’t prevent them from driving around LOOKING for cars that look like the stolen one. Or hanging out by the side of the road looking for it. Which would not only be lawful, but a more efficient use of resources.

      Of course now they’d need to have reasonable suspicion BEFORE they pulled the car over. They’d have to have reason to believe that this car is the stolen one. Which is easy enough. A car that’s the same model and color as the one that was just stolen, in close proximity in time and place to the theft, would at least give them reasonable suspicion to want to look at the VIN in the window (presuming the license plate got swapped) to make sure this is or isn’t the right car.

      And we haven’t covered this yet, but there is an exception to the warrant requirement that says if the police have probable cause to believe that the car ITSELF is contraband, they can seize it without a warrant. (If they don’t have to go into a private area to find it.) So if the car’s license plate hasn’t been changed, they can tow it from a parking lot or wherever else they happen to see it, if it’s in public, without having to get a warrant first.

  4. Tim says

    “DWB” – that’s funny.

  5. Eric says

    Still lots of room for abuse. What happens after the stop can vary quite a bit. People that look like the cops get to go after two seconds, everyone else gets “closer inspection”.

    Violating everyone’s rights equally might be fair, but it still isn’t right.

  6. WJS says

    This is why I don’t have much faith in the system – the state just does what it likes, and claims the 4th doesn’t apply because it’s “reasonable”. But that’s based on what the state considers reasonable, not what the people might consider reasonable. I would think that most people would agree that you should have a right to free movement without being harassed by the cops, and disrupting traffic by stopping every car on the off chance that the driver might be drunk is highlyunreasonable, but clearly the state doesn’t.

  7. John says

    I think everyone who has had a family member or friend killed by a drunk driver would assume it’s reasonable for the police to look for drunk drivers.

    Furthermore, what this site doesn’t cover (and maybe it gets covered later or maybe it’s only certain states) is that defense attornies (like the author) have made it very difficult for law enforcement to conduct traffic stops. In SC, traffic studies have to be conducted where the check point is going to be, and notices have to be posted announcing the check point (therefore, not “random” and allows drunks to plan their routes home, or CopBlock apps to alert users to it). Basically, these checkpoints can’t be set up on a major road heading to and from the bars, because it would be tricking those poor drunk drivers or something. Maybe Nathan has a less biased viewpoint on it than me.

    • By the sounds of it, having a less biased viewpoint than you wouldn’t exactly be hard.
      “Drunk drivers are evil and the cops should do whatever it takes to stop them, even blocking major roads!”

      • Yes, I would *absolutely* agree that blocking major roads is appropriate if it helps curb drunk driving (and feel free to prove it doesn’t — I see conflicting reports). No, I don’t agree that they should do whatever it takes — for instance, I don’t think they should require somebody to enter a 24 hour quarantine where no food or drink will be provided before driving a vehicle, even though that seems like it would nip the problem right in the bud.

        Drunk drivers are recklessly endangering people’s lives. I strongly suspect (but do not have evidence handy) that they are a small core of serious repeat offenders rather than typical people under extraordinary circumstances (“I got plastered in the woods and then my wife went into premature labour and our cellphones were out of batteries so I couldn’t call an ambulance!”), so some of the arguments raised against Deterrence and Rehabilitation motivations don’t actually apply.

        Road stops are, at an individual level, very minor inconveniences which would be hard to take seriously in a debate except for the fact that they do strike a very large number of people.

        I’m very surprised to see your assertion that most people would find police sobriety stops unreasonable. I suspect you’re dead wrong.

  8. duckrental says

    Stopping every fifth car is about as far from random as you can get.

    • ? what are you talking about, thats completely random. random doesnt mean that you have to actually stop the cars at random, it means that each car has an equal (and equally random) chance of being stopped.

    • You’re correct from one perspective, in that “random” usually means done in a haphazard, unplanned, and unstructured way without a pattern. This method does not fit that definition.

      But the law is using the term “random” as it is used in statistics, which is a process of selection where each item in a set (in this case, the cars on the road) have an equal chance of being chosen. As long as the police aren’t singling out any car specifically they are meeting that definition.

  9. duckrental says

    But every car doesn’t have an equal chance of being chosen – If you’re stopping every fifth car, the probability of choosing the fourth car is 0 and the probability of stopping the fifth car is 1.

    Stopping every fifth car is unbiased, which is what we really care about, but it’s not random.

    (Though I suppose you could make an argument about perspective – you could maybe consider it random from the perspective of the driver but not from the perspective of the officers conducting the stops)

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