Holiday Roadblocks – What You Should Know

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You can avoid
being felt-up or scanned (for now) if you avoid flying, but that
doesn’t mean you’re not subject to similarly random — and just as
intimidating — random stops out on the road.

As the holidays
approach, your local police will likely be stepping up the use of
“sobriety checkpoints” — and random stops/ID checks/interrogations
under other names, too.

You’ve probably
not done anything wrong, or even given reason to suspect you might
have — but that doesn’t mean they can’t stop you, force you to identify
yourself, produce your “papers” — or try to interrogate you as to
where you’re going and whatever else they feel like knowing about.

The Supreme
Court has ruled they can do all that. But — for now — that is all
they can legally do to you. A few tattered shreds of your former
right to be free from unreasonable searches still remain. You should
know where the line is — what they can force you to do vs. what
you don’t (yet) have to submit to:

You do
have to stop:

If there’s
a random roadblock up ahead, you’re stuck. If you turn around or
try to avoid the checkpoint, they’ll not only go after you — you’ve
likely given them “probable cause” to search you and your vehicle
instead of just interrogating you and making you show them your
“papers.”

You don’t
have to answer their questions:

If the cop
asks you where you’re headed, you have the legal right to decline
to answer. “I’d rather not say,” or “I prefer not to answer” are
examples of lawful, within-your-rights responses to such queries.
It will surely annoy the cop, but legally speaking,he has no authority
to press the point.

You do have
to identify yourself:

The courts
have ruled that the cops can demand ID of anyone, anytime they are
out in public — and that you must comply with such a demand, even
if you haven’t done anything illegal or even given reason to suspect
you may have. It’s completely Soviet, of course — but that’s the
nature of modern America. You should therefore hand over your ID
and remain quiet and calm. If the cop asks whether that’s you on
the ID, confirm your identity. But say no more.

You don’t
have to let them search your car:

Cops will often
ask whether you have anything “they should know about” on your person
or in your vehicle. Then they will ask whether you mind whether
they “take a look.” The way it’s phrased sounds gentle enough but
it’s very intimidating coming from an armed authority figure shining
a light in your face, with all the implied threat that conveys.
Many people cave in and say, go head. Even if you have nothing to
hide, you should never give consent to a search of your person
or vehicle. Not only is it an affront to your dignity and an assault
on your most basic rights as a human being, it’s a fact that some
cops are corrupt and more than a few have been caught (later) planting
“evidence” in people’s cars, such as a small amount of pot — in
order to seize the vehicle under asset forfeiture laws.

Bottom line:
Be respectful and avoid being confrontational, but don’t willingly
give up your rights, whatever’s left of them.

November
24, 2010

Eric Peters
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and
Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
website
.

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