The Politics of Roadblocks

After reviewing the many court decisions involving roadblocks and related search and seizure cases the trends are fairly obvious, and ominous.

Personal privacy is an endangered right. The judicial rationalizations that legalize roadblocks for law enforcement purposes can be characterized as contorted, convoluted, and blind to the Pandora’s box of abuses they can unleash.

The principle of individual privacy, the right to be left alone, has repeatedly been diluted and undermined in the name of safety, national security, or crime prevention. Depending on the courts to reverse this trend is an exercise in futility.

Re-gaining our personal privacy and giving substance to the concept of the right to be left alone are battles that will have to be fought in the legislative arena.

The fight will range from state to state and multiple sessions of Congress. Not until political fortunes rise and fall based on this issue will we experience a return to personal privacy and the right to travel without the unbridled interference of law enforcement agencies.

Ideally, a constitutional amendment that removed all ambiguity from the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution would be our first choice. That is, a clear and simple statement that the courts could not pervert.

Such an amendment should state that no person could be stopped, detained, or involuntarily questioned for law enforcement purposes, without Probable Cause to believe that they had, or were in the process, of committing a crime.

Political reality suggests that such an amendment would be incredibly difficult to pass. Therefore, the next best option is legislation, similarly worded, that would prevent any and all units of government from exercising enforcement actions that are not based on Probable Cause, or at least reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed.

Federal legislation promoting this concept would be difficult to pass. However, a state by state grass roots effort could be successful.

Momentum for anti-roadblock legislation could be initiated by starting in those states that already take a dim view of police roadblocks for enforcement purposes. After passage in several states where roadblocks have been discouraged the effort could be transferred to states that have succumbed to the use of roadblocks. The use of the Initiative and Referendum process is another viable alternative.

Model Legislative Language:

The stopping and detaining, involuntarily, of any person for any law enforcement purpose must be preceded by probable cause or, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion, that said person has or is committing a crime. The right to travel cannot be diminished nor limited as a condition for obtaining a government privilege or license.

The second sentence is to prevent the state from conditioning the issuance of a driver’s license by requiring the applicant to give up certain rights, e.g. allowing police officers to stop and detain you without probable cause or reasonable suspicion as a condition for the granting of a drivers license.

If you have an interest in pursuing this kind of legislative initiative in your state please contact the National Motorists Association for further information.

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