Police Checkpoints: The Scariest Ride of Your Life

By guest writer William Rayburn, NMA Washington State Member

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as NMA E-Newsletter #451 from September 2017. Due to the current COVID-19 Crisis, more police checkpoints have popped up to control motorists driving from one town to another or one state to another. If you would like to receive our weekly Email Newsletter, please join the NMA today and help us fight checkpoints wherever they might be. Feel free to input a checkpoint you encountered recently on the NMA website www.roadblock.org.

As an NMA member, I genuinely enjoy reading the NMA e-newsletter. Today I thought to myself I could contribute something that I have had the displeasure witnessing first-hand and something quite relevant to the subject matter for which the NMA is founded. I’m talking about DHS (Department of Homeland Security) in-country checkpoints, their abuse of power, as well as the potential hazards it presents to the average driver.

Let me preface what I’m about to say with what an in-country checkpoint is and is not according to law and then show what they have become. A DHS checkpoint is an established temporary or permanent roadblock along specific highways by the Federal Government, manned by border patrol agents, for the “…sole purpose of conducting a routine and limited inquiry into residence status.” This as defined by the Supreme Court in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976). But these checkpoints now are anything but unobtrusive and not merely limited to citizenship determination. Following some years of operation, the purpose has clearly shifted into random criminal investigation checkpoints, and that has resulted in a power abusive fishing expedition for the agents that staff them. Make no mistake, they will stop at nothing if they are so inclined, and no constitutional right that you think you have will stand in their way.

Some folks are quite familiar with the random heavy-handed approach they take, and some have taken it upon themselves to defy this Draconian behavior – which only fuels the agent(s) brash and lawless approach. In many cases, you could easily find yourself wondering at one of these checkpoints if you have gone back in time to Nazi Germany. However, to be fair, many people go through these checkpoints every day with no incident. But when someone does encounter a problem, it can be quite a surprise. Take, for example, Jessica Cooke, a student of law enforcement, who one fine day in May 2015 found herself on the receiving end at one of these checkpoints. The video picks up after she had pleasantly provided all the necessary documentation proving who she was but appeared “nervous,” according to the female agent, and was ordered to secondary. There, she was further commanded to wait for an undetermined amount of time until a k-9 unit arrived, obviously to sniff for drugs. When she questioned the probable cause and attempted to exercise her rights, things quickly escalated. What happened then is totally unbelievable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb8vOHExCYw

This scenario is being played out on our American highways daily. And it’s not unheard of although many people may never face this unless they are traveling within 100 miles of a border or coastal area. It’s then you should be prepared for every possible experience that could shock your conscience. Which is the reason I thought of writing this article, to make drivers aware. John Stossel did a piece on this, which I am also including. It was a well done 20/20 reporting of facts and brief clips. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnicMKKSReY

These checkpoints have obviously morphed into something they were not intended to be and indeed not anything that the Supreme Court had envisioned. By the way, being made to wait for any length of time for a K-9, after the time had lapsed to find that Ms. Cooke was a citizen, is also against the law, according to the Supreme Court. A “…stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority. The vote was 6 to 3. Rodriguez v. United States No. 13-9972.

It is well established that a police officer can’t randomly pull you over just to search your vehicle, absent probable cause to suspect that the driver has or is in the commission of a crime. But the fact is the government is doing exactly this by way of these in-country checkpoints. And before you say it, it really won’t matter how cooperative you are before you find yourself on the receiving end of something like this. And many may not ever encounter such a thing until you find yourself on vacation saying something like, “Oh, look here, honey, they have some sort of roadblock going on with lots of border patrol officers.” You may just be getting on the scariest ride of your life.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author. For the NMA’s FAQ on Roadblocks, click HERE.

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One Response to “Police Checkpoints: The Scariest Ride of Your Life”

  1. anatoly arutunoff says:

    many years ago when you could still drive across boulder dam–but after 9/11–at night there was a checkpoint before the dam. I was driving my red Subaru svx and as I pulled up to the point I was simply waved through..I had contributed $20 to get a front plate that said ‘deputy sheriffs association’ on it. and of course I looked old and harmless!