Your Rights At A Roadblock

Roadblocks are usually established in locations that prevent easy avoidance, offer ample parking for interrogating suspected law violators and issuing tickets, and usually in places and during times that will not cause serious traffic tie ups, although there have certainly been exceptions.

The stated purposes of roadblocks are usually legalized excuses to stop and scrutinize motorists for which there would otherwise be no reason to do so. These excuses include “sobriety checks,” license and registration verification, possession of insurance, proof of citizenship, and seatbelt usage.

The desired effect is to establish a sense of fear and intimidation among the population. The pity is that it works, as far as the “desired effect” is concerned.

Even if the courts disallow roadblocks for certain purposes, e.g. the recent cases prohibiting roadblocks from being used to identify drug users or couriers, the enforcement agencies just claim another purpose for the roadblocks and it’s business as usual. The courts have gone out of their way to allow the police great latitude in what they can do, once they have you stopped and under their control.

The point of the above discussion is to suggest that you engage the roadblock process from the standpoint that the current courts find them legal and a legitimate law enforcement tactic. Therefore, there is little to gain by launching into a tirade over the constitutionality of roadblocks, at least while you are stopped at one.

However, this is not to say that all your rights are null and void once you enter a roadblock.

First, the police do not have the authority to search you or your vehicle, not without probable cause that you have, or are committing a crime. They may ask your permission for a search — which means they do not have legal grounds to force a search.

Never permit a voluntary search of your person or your vehicle. The police may try to cajole you into permitting a search. The old ruse, “if you don’t have anything to hide, why object to a search?” should be ignored, or met with a response that you value your right to privacy and do not consent to a search of your vehicle.

If, under any set of circumstances, the police force a search of your vehicle, assume the worse case scenario. If they can’t find anything illegal in your vehicle, they may place something in your vehicle that will justify their search.

This is a sad commentary on the state of affairs, but these events should be expected in a society that employs police state tactics to intimidate common citizens.

Often, an involuntary search is preceded by another form of search, the once-over by the urban myth known as the infallible drug sniffing dog. Old Bowser can be relied upon to find drugs anyplace the police want to find drugs. (Yes, the dogs can detect drugs, but they can be easily manipulated or tricked into “sensing” drugs where no drugs exist, at least prior to the roadblock stop.)

Most people are so relieved to be allowed to leave after the harrowing experience of having their car ravaged that they never consider launching a civil suit against the police department.

If the police are persistent about searching your vehicle, you should be equally persistent in demanding that they specify what illegal item they are looking for and why they think you have it in your vehicle. If they cannot come up with plausible answers to these questions, they do not have legal grounds to even consider searching your car.

The courts allow the police to detain drivers for further interrogation, but not for indefinite lengths of time.

The courts seem to tolerate 20 minutes of harassment and intimidation and consider that tolerable for a suspected criminal. However, unless you ask to leave, the courts have said the police are under no obligation to tell you that you can leave. You have to ask, “Am I free to go?”

If the police do not have defensible grounds to further detain you, they have to let you leave.

There is no greater symbol of a society having lost its bearings than the “sobriety roadblock.” It is universally admitted that roadblocks apprehend very few drunk drivers, far fewer than the same allocation of resources could apprehend during regular patrols.

Again, the purposes are intimidation, using the stops as a pretence to look for other criminal activity, and to garner public relations points as a “get tough on drunk drivers” agency.

DWI roadblocks are usually set up at night and can be quite unnerving with the bright lights, orchestrated show of force, and flashlights thrust in drivers’ faces. All the previous comments about searches are applicable to DWI roadblocks. Also, you should not allow any penetration of your vehicle’s interior space, that includes sticking a flashlight (often contains an alcohol sensor) through your window.

You can be required to show the usual documentation, such as your driver’s license, but you do not have to open your window any further than the space to hand it out. You do not have to answer questions about where you have been or where you are going, whether or not you have been drinking or what items are contained in your car.

If you are ordered out of your car, lock the door behind you.

You do not have to perform any feats of balance, answer quiz questions, or recite the alphabet. In fact we recommend that you respectfully decline to do any of these things.

A so-called field sobriety test is conducted for one reason only — to develop probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving. You can not pass a field sobriety test, no matter how sober or gifted you are. If the police believe they have probable cause to charge you with drunk driving, they can coerce you to take some form of breath or chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content. You can refuse, but the penalties for refusal are often as severe as a DWI conviction.

When you are first approached at a DWI roadblock, open your window slightly and wait for the officer to make his statement or ask his questions. If he simply offers the canned explanation for the stop and asks to see your license, have it ready to display.

If he asks any further questions, you should politely decline to enter into a discussion. Something like; “officer, I really don’t approve of roadblocks and I don’t care to discuss my affairs” should suffice. If the officer persists, ask if you may leave.

It’s important not to answer any questions, no matter how harmless. Your willingness to answer some questions, but not others, will raise suspicion. Worse yet is to give incriminating answers to seemingly routine questions.

If you set the stage in a manner that it is clear you are not going to answer questions, period, there can be no defensible reason for detaining you, based on what you said.

Just answer every question with “I don’t wish to discuss my affairs, may I leave now?” By law, you are not obligated to answer these kinds of questions and you cannot be detained because you refuse to chit-chat with the officers at a roadblock.

If you have the time, the courage, and the confidence to verbally express your displeasure with being stopped at a roadblock, please do so. It would be a nice change of pace!

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