What are my rights at various “checkpoints”?

Flex Your Rights

There are four general types of checkpoints you might encounter: DUI checkpoints, US border checkpoints, drug checkpoints, and TSA checkpoints. In a legal sense, they are not all created equal. So depending on which one you encounter, you’ll want to be prepared to flex your rights appropriately.  

DUI Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints — also known as DUI checkpoints — are the most common roadblocks you might encounter. They function as a general purpose investigatory tactic where police can get a close look at passing motorists by detaining them briefly. A roadblock stop is quick, but it gives police a chance to check tags and licenses, while also giving officers a quick whiff of the driver’s breath and a chance to peer into the vehicle for a moment.

Remember that your constitutional rights still apply in a roadblock situation. Though police are permitted to stop you briefly, they may not search you or your car unless they have probable cause that you’re under the influence or you agree to the search. As such, you are not required to answer their questions or admit to breaking the law.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Illinois v. Caballes police have more leeway to use drug-sniffing dogs in roadblock situations. There’s no need to waive your rights simply because dogs are present. But be advised that your legal options are limited if you’re arrested as a result of a dog sniff during a roadblock.

Also keep in mind that police closely monitor cars approaching the roadblock. So you’re not likely to have any success trying to evade it.

Sobriety checkpoints are generally permitted by the courts, but only if conducted properly. If you’re arrested at a police roadblock always consult an attorney before confessing or agreeing to a plea bargain. There might be some legal options that your lawyer can pursue.

US Border Checkpoints

Be aware that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents — which are part of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) — are permitted to search you and your belongings at the U.S. border without probable cause or a search warrant. So anytime you cross the border, you consent to a search.

CBP may generally stop and search the property of anyone entering or exiting the U.S. If agents have reasonable suspicion to believe you’re concealing contraband, they may search your body using pat-down, strip, body cavity, or involuntary x-ray searches.

Checkpoints Near the Border
Be aware that DHS agents have recently set up constitutionally-questionable “security checkpoints” up to 100 miles inside U.S. territory. If you should drive into one of these roadblocks, you are not required to answer the agent’s questions (usually starting with “Are you a United States citizen?”). Nor are you required to consent to any searches.

Visit www.checkpointusa.org/blog to learn more about this program and check out the video below. By actively “flexing” their rights, these brave citizens expose the techniques DHS agents (and police in general) use to trick and intimidate citizens into compliance. Also take note of the practical necessity of flexing your rights repeatedly.

Drug Checkpoints (it’s a trap!)

The Supreme Court has ruled that random checkpoints for the purpose of finding illegal drugs are unconstitutional. However, police sometimes put up signs warning drivers of up-coming drug checkpoints and instead pull over people who make illegal u-turns or discard contraband out the window. If you see a sign saying “Drug Checkpoint Ahead”, just keep driving and don’t panic. If there’s a rest area following the sign, DO NOT pull into it. If you do, you’ll find yourself surrounded by drug-sniffing dogs.

Police departments, especially in the Mid-west, have been pushing their luck with this tactic, so if you encounter anything resembling an actual drug checkpoint, please contact that state’s ACLU Chapter. Similarly, if you’re arrested as a result of a real or fake “drug checkpoint”, you must contact an attorney to explore your legal options.

TSA Checkpoints

Be aware that Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents — which are part of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) — are permitted to search you and your belongings without probable cause or a search warrant anytime you pass through a TSA security zone.

The ACLU also keeps a Know Your Rights When Traveling page. It’s got handy tips for deaing with “spot interviews” and opting out of nude body scanners.

TSA’s Mysterious ID Requirement
Many folks are concerned about the TSA’s requirement that passengers show a photo identification before passing through security. Of particular concern, is TSA’s persistent refusal to release the text of the law that it uses to justify that requirement. For more on the sheer absurdity of the policy, read security expert Bruce Schneier’s interesting analysis.


3 thoughts on “What are my rights at various “checkpoints”?

  1. Do I have the right to pull over a cop to inspect their car and demand a blood test. I guess not. They wonder why there are so many that have a outright hatered for cops and the govt. They are all just a bunch of busy body snoops that have nothing better to do than put their snouts where they don`t belong. I can`t wait for open season on them f`ers. It has been my experience with them that all they do is break up families and ruin peoples lives.

  2. I was at a fairly upscale pub friday night. A guy got too drunk, fell and broke a table. The waitress kindly let him know he should leave, the pub would call a cab. He wasnt going for it. So I sat down at his table and said, “hey bro, I can tell by your eyes you are a cool person, and would like to hang out with ya sometime, but the waitress is probably right, lets help ya get home etc…Anyway, my point is, I did not come off like a cop, and calmed him down and everything worked out. He got home, probably felt bad the next morning etc…if a cop would have been there, the guy would have been tazed and jailed..Why cant cops use kindness anymore? it works in most cases..I was concealed carry, but using a firearm is the last thing I would do…I think my brains are more powerful than tazers and guns. Too bad most cops do not have brains, only tazers and guns.

    1. D., the cops these days are only here to Serve and Protect.

      The interests of the corporate mafia, that is.

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