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Time to Revisit Michigan State Police v. Sitz

February 23, 2010

Time to Revisit Sitz vs. Michigan

Sitz vs. Michigan is the US Supreme Court decision that officially opened the door for roadblocks in the United States. The Michigan Supreme Courts ruled that DUI roadblocks were unconstitutional. The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court and the court ruled that DUI roadblocks do not violate the 4th amendment and sent the case back to Michigan. The Michigan Supreme Court then ruled DUI roadblocks violated the Michigan Constitution, but the damage was done.
It should have been foreseen that once roadblocks are allowed for any purpose they will be used for any purpose deemed desirable by enforcement agencies. All they have to do is call the roadblock a “sobriety checkpoint” and it can serve as the excuse to enforce, harass, and intimidate, anytime and anywhere.

A recent investigation by the New York Times discovered how communities in California are using DUI roadblocks as an excuse to confiscate vehicles, assess crippling fines, and arrest motorists for a host of violations, most of which have nothing to do with drunk driving. It’s a multi-million dollar enterprise for local communities.
There have been other instances where law enforcement agencies were dumb enough to admit that their roadblocks were for purposes other than DUI enforcement and the courts have generally been quick to shut down these other uses. The exception has been the extension of roadblocks in-land from the borders, ostensibly to control illegal immigration and smuggling—as we all know, several million illegal immigrants show how effective this tactic has been.

Justice Thomas has implied that the Sitz decision was wrong. He is right.
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NMA Position on Roadblocks

We oppose the use of roadblocks, period. The only justification for stopping citizens under a roadblock scenario is to warn them of an unseen peril that could cause injury or death to an unsuspecting motorist. So-called “sobriety check points,” or seat belt checks, or the myriad of other excuses the government concocts to harass and intimidate its citizens through the use of roadblocks are, in our opinion, unconstitutional and in direct contradiction to any honest definition of freedom.

A free and open society that champions individual liberty and personal responsibility—the kind of society we try to tell the world the USA represents, cannot condone the arbitrary stopping, interrogating, intimidation and searching of citizens whose only crime is to be peacefully traveling a public highway. Roadblocks, as used in the US, are designed and intended to use fear, intimidation, and inconvenience to expedite a government edict or a political agenda. They have a net zero influence on public safety. But, even if there were a “safety benefit” related to roadblocks, it would not outweigh the negative totalitarian nature of this practice.

Currently, roadblocks are being used to circumvent the need for probable cause to stop, interrogate, and search the occupants of motor vehicles. The pretense might be a seatbelt check, registration or drivers license verification, proof of insurance, or a “safety” inspection. The short sighted court system has readily approved the practice of using a trumped up pretence to stop a vehicle to provide new opportunities to look for other violations of the law. Given that it is virtually impossible to do anything in America without violating one or more laws, especially while driving, roadblocks give the police the opportunity to abuse any individual or group they chose to target. The reincarnated prohibitionist movement has seized upon the roadblock tactic as a means to employ fear in their holy war against “Demon Rum.”

Many of the current DWI laws have nothing to do with addressing drunk driving as a safety problem. This is a campaign to disparage the use of beverages containing alcohol and to undermine the hospitality industry that sells these beverages. (Time for a disclaimer, The NMA does not have any affiliation with the beverage or hospitality industries.) The proponents of DWI roadblocks readily and publicly admit that the purpose of roadblocks is not to catch drunk drivers (which they seldom do). The purpose is to intimidate and to make people fearful of drinking and driving—no matter how little or responsibly they may do so. This tactic is aimed directly at people who drink in a responsible manner and who are not over represented in traffic accidents.

The advocates of DWI roadblocks also admit that roadblocks do offer the opportunity to arrest people for drunk driving who would not otherwise be arrested based on their ability to drive safely. The unreasonable and unscientific blood alcohol standard of .08% allows the arrest and conviction as a drunk driver, regardless of actual impairment. This absurdity is expanded by the use of roadblocks.

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