YOU ASKED: “If I’m not breaking the law, the PD has no right to stop me at these checkpoints so I don’t have to show them my license, insurance, etc, right?”
Sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Unfortunately this is a pretty tough question to answer because it’s really two questions:
1) What are my “rights” at a Checkpoint and
2) What should I do at a Checkpoint?
To make it tougher, the purely academic answer exists in a vacuum while the rest of us are stuck out here in reality!
“What are my Rights?” At it’s core this is an academic question, and there is an academic answer: Most of us are aware by now that our constitutional rights to move about the US freely without searches and seizures have been limited in many ways. One such rights limitation is during the Sobriety Checkpoint – the laws are different across the states, however in MO “Sobriety” checkpoints are legal and Police are allowed to stop drivers in a random pattern for a brief time to ascertain whether the driver shows signs of impairment. Lawful checkpoints must meet requirements concerning location, procedures, notice and minimal delay to drivers (State v. Canton 775 SW2d 352). This does not mean that “Safety Checkpoints” or “Drug Checkpoints” are legal in Mo – a topic for another blog. Police are not entitled to demand identification, insurance, registration, etc unless it is incident to a traffic violation or if the police have a reasonable suspicion of illegal conduct, even though there is not actual violation of the law they may examine drivers’ licenses or registration. A simplified overview of your Rights at a Checkpoint can be found on our blog: Your Rights At a Sobriety Checkpoint.
“What Should I do at a Checkpoint?” This question is not necessarily academic, and the answer depends on the goal(s) of the person asking the question – and sometimes it also depends on the officer standing in front of you controlling your world at that time. This is that messy place where the vacuum of the academic answer ceases to really exist in reality. So what is your goal? Do you want to make it through the Checkpoint as fast as possible regardless of whether the Police are asking you for things they shouldn’t? Do you want to respectfully stand up for your Rights, our Constitution, and for Our Children’s Children’s Children? (lol – I find myself wondering how many people will get that reference)
If you are the type of person that doesn’t want any “trouble” and feels that it is not your job to “police” police and the constitution (and you are not intoxicated) – answer harmless questions, provide your license, insurance, etc., and try to get on your way asap. If your goal is to flex and enforce your constitutional rights on legal grounds, or to demonstrate respectful non-compliance for your children in tow – you can advise the officer RESPECTFULLY that you will not answer questions or provide any information without an attorney, you do not consent to any searches, you do not consent to any field sobriety testing, you request to contact your attorney if questioned, you want to leave if you are not under arrest.
Unfortunately, in reality asserting your Rights even respectfully may not always be well received by the officer if he perceives your actions/words as a challenge to his authority. If you roll up to a “Safety Checkpoint” and advise the police that you refuse to provide your ID and/or insurance because you believe their checkpoint doesn’t conform to Mo law and they don’t have authority to stop you – it is possible that you are going to have a long day from that point forward. Refusing to cooperate with law enforcement, even when they are wrong, can put you at risk of being subjected to further scrutiny based upon the officer’s allegations of probable cause, or maybe the officer doesn’t really understand your Rights (some don’t) – it can cause you to be subjected to field sobriety testing (which is difficult to pass completely sober), it may lead to ticketing, it may lead to delay in getting on your way, or worse.
Avoid being a “lemming” or “sheep” but don’t be a fool either, be aware of what you are getting into when you decide to stand for your Rights in the face of contrary Police instruction, KNOW your Rights, be RESPECTFUL and CALM, maintain eye contact and don’t make sudden movements, have ALL of your identifying information in order, have a witness (recordings are always nice), have a lawyer on call, expect that you could get arrested, expect that your car could be impounded regardless of having a passenger that can drive it home, expect that you could be drug tested – if you expect these things it won’t blow your mind and your COOL if it happens, because it can and does.
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