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Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arrests

  1. Rob Cypher
    The Beckley, West Virginia Police Department set up a "seatbelt checkpoint," which resulted in several drug arrests on July 2.

    The Beckley police claimed they did the checkpoint to inform residents and raise awareness of a new seatbelt law that goes into effect on July 9.

    However, police brought K-9 drug-sniffing dogs to the checkpoints, which were not needed for seatbelt education.

    According to The Register-Herald, police searched cars during the seatbelt checks and made five drug arrests. Officers seized 96 grams of marijuana, crack cocaine and $1,500. Police also issued 25 traffic citations.

    A press release from the police department states: “The Beckley Police Department will continue to utilize highway safety funded checkpoints to crack down on impaired driving, violations of our traffic safety laws, and increase awareness for safe driving habits in an effort to make our roadways safer.”

    However, there is no mention of searching cars without a warrant, K-9 dogs or making drug arrests.

    Police are increasingly using seatbelt checkpoints in Tennessee, Louisiana and New York as a way to search vehicles without a warrant.

    Mayfield Heights, Ohio police even set up a fake checkpoint along I-271, noted Cleveland.com.

    How are police allowed to do these types of warrantless searches? Many states do not consider a checkpoint an actual "traffic stop" by police.

    The checkpoints are legal as long as the primary purpose is "regulatory" instead of "general criminal enforcement," which is what police departments often claim in press releases, such as the one above.

    However, whenever a police officer is involved in any situation, even off-duty, it can result in criminal enforcement.

    During the seatbelt checkpoint, if there are observable signs of wrongdoing, police may gain "probable cause" to search cars without a warrant.

    "Observable signs of wrongdoing" can be anything deemed suspicious, but not necessarily an illegal activity.

    The courts are divided on the issue of checkpoints and have come down on the side of police and motorists.

    Michael Allen
    Opposing Views
    July 5, 2013



  1. Diverboone
    Re: Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arre

    I believe the SCOTUS has ruled that drug check points are illegal. One question that could be asked, How many breathalyzer test or field sobriety test did they preform on these stopped motorist. Many would ask what does that have to do with this. The protection afforded the general public out weighs the personal rights involved to be free from such traffic stops. The threat to the public has not been found great enough to out weigh personal rights just because drugs are possessed. If there was no field sobriety or breathalyzer test given to those that were stopped then this is a drug check point.
    The awareness campaign that was stated in the Beckley stops, would in it's self limit the brief intervention of law enforcement to the handing of written information such as a flyer, to the motorist as they passed through the check point. Any detention longer than that to "run the drug dog around" is outside the scope of the intervention, unless it is consensual.
  2. Docta
    Re: Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arre

    Only in America,

    Compulsory seat belt laws coming in soon hey? what is this the 1970's.

    If your only getting seat belt laws now I would say that searching cars is the least of your worries. :rolleyes:
  3. DiabolicScheme
    Re: Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arre

    Quite frankly these searches were probably authorized by drivers that didn't know their rights. Cops can do some deceitful stuff to convince the driver to give them permission to search.

    Many; in fact most, do not understand their rights.
  4. Diverboone
    Re: Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arre

    It's for that very reason that I included "unless it is consensual" to the end of my statement.
  5. SmokeTwibz
    Re: Police Using Seatbelt Checkpoints To Search Cars Without Warrants, Make Drug Arre

    Blood, spit and cops: Nationwide drug roadblocks raise eyebrows

    (CNN) -- The roadblocks went up on a Friday at several points in two Alabama towns, about 40 miles on either side of Birmingham.

    For the next two days, off-duty sheriff's deputies in St. Clair County, to the east, and Bibb County, to the southwest, flagged down motorists and steered them toward federal highway safety researchers. The researchers asked them a few questions about drinking and drug use and asked them for breath, saliva and blood samples -- offering them $10 for saliva and $50 to give blood.

    It's not just in Alabama. The roadblocks are part of a national study led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is trying to determine how many drivers are on the road with drugs or alcohol in their systems. Similar roadblocks will be erected in dozens of communities across the nation this year, according to the agency.

    It's been going on for decades. Previous surveys date to the 1970s. The last one was run in 2007, and it included the collection of blood and saliva samples without apparent controversy, sheriff's spokesmen in both Alabama counties said.

    But this time, it's happening as the Obama administration struggles to explain revelations that U.S. spy organizations have been tracking phone and Internet traffic. Against that backdrop, the NHTSA-backed roadblocks have led to complaints in Alabama about an intrusive federal government.

    Gov. Robert Bentley complained that his office had not been notified that the surveys were going to be conducted. Speaking on a Birmingham radio show, Bentley, a Republican, said the stops were "bad timing" after the NSA revelations and in light of recent complaints about the Internal Revenue Service subjecting conservative groups that applied for tax exemptions to additional scrutiny.

    Bentley spokesman Jeremy King said the governor's office "is working to find out exactly what took place during those surveys."

    "We just want to make sure the rights of our citizens are protected," King said.

    And Susan Watson, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the use of deputies to conduct the survey an "abuse of power." Even though the survey is voluntary, people still feel they need to comply when asked by a police officer, she said.

    "How voluntary is it when you have a police officer in uniform flagging you down?" Watson asked. "Are you going to stop? Yes, you're going to stop."

    The agency said in a statement that the survey provides "critical information" to reduce drunken or drugged driving.

    "Impaired driving accounts for more than 10,000 deaths per year, and findings from this survey will be used to maximize the impact of policy development, education campaigns, law enforcement efforts and other activities aimed at reducing this problem," it said. The program costs about $7.9 million over three years, from planning the study to analyzing the results, it said.

    "The survey provides useful data about alcohol and drug use by drivers, and participation is completely voluntary and anonymous," it said. "More than 60 communities across the country will participate this year, including two Alabama counties, both of which also participated in the previous survey in 2007. NHTSA always works closely with state safety officials and local law enforcement to conduct these surveys as we work to better inform our efforts to reduce drunk and drugged driving."

    The agency said the 8,000 drivers expected to take part will do so voluntarily and anonymously, and researchers follow "a highly scientific protocol and complex statistical design in order to accurately reflect the problem nationwide."

    In the 2007 survey, about 7,700 drivers gave saliva samples and 3,300 gave blood at survey sites run during both day and night. Among drivers who were interviewed at night, 12.4% had alcohol in their systems, while about 16% had used marijuana, cocaine or over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

    Cliff Sims, publisher of the Alabama conservative blog Yellowhammer Politics, said the complaints are mostly because of the bad timing Bentley mentioned. But, he added, "I think it's also that it has a lot to do with a larger distrust of government and people feeling more and more like their privacy has been invaded.

    "When you see that taken out of the online space, where it's not quite as tangible, and into the real, physical world, that's the kind of visible and tangible thing that people can latch onto," he said.

    Sims said he doesn't believe that the roadblocks are the result of "some sort of sinister conspiracy." But, he added, "I think it's inappropriate to have uniformed police officers on the side of the road taking people's saliva samples, whether it's voluntary or not."

    The off-duty sheriff's deputies who took part this year set up traffic signs notifying motorists that a national traffic survey was being conducted, said Bibb County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Lawrence, who worked at one of the five sites around Centerville. The next half-dozen drivers who came by were flagged down and asked whether they wanted to take part in the program.

    If they did, they were steered into a spot where researchers from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which conducted the survey for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, began asking them questions. Once they drove off, deputies flagged down another car to take their place.

    "It was all voluntary. Nobody was made to participate or anything like that," Lawrence said. "They could just answer the little 10 survey questions and then leave, or they could answer the questions and give the mouth sample, or they could do it all."

    Deputies were told they were not to make arrests, he said. If a breath sample indicated that a driver was legally intoxicated, "The organization would handle them as far as a ride home."

    Lawrence said most motorists opted in, although several at the roadblock he worked bowed out.

    "I had mostly traffic of folks going to and from work," he said. "We had several that would say, you know, 'I don't have time' or 'I'm on my way to work, I can't."

    Lawrence said Bibb County had no complaints about its role in the 2007 survey. Nor did St. Clair County, said Lt. Freddie Turrentine, a sheriff's spokesman there.

    June 19, 2013
    Matt Smith | CNN
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