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Roadblocks and the Fourth Amendment

October 21, 2011

In spite of a Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, Genesee County (Michigan) Sheriff Pickell has instituted a ‘drug interdiction’ roadblock program. Like the one ruled un-constitutional in Indianapolis, this one comes complete with warning signs a mile ahead of each checkpoint and drug-sniffing dogs at the actual stop.  The Fourth Amendment protects us against ‘unreasonable search and seizure,’ meaning that peace officers have to have ‘probable cause’ to stop and search you.  While the courts have accepted the doctrine of a ‘diminished expectation of privacy’ when traveling by car, the right to be free from arbitrary search is still recognized.

One of the reasons that we study state and local government is to be aware of these things, and to know how they affect our daily lives.  While the news of a revolution overseas may be exciting to read about, and while it may affect us indirectly (higher gas prices due to the war in Libya, for example), those things do not touch us as intimately or as often as something like this does.  While one may choose to support such a checkpoint program, many do not and will be surprised and angry to find themselves hailed to the side of the road for no reason other than their having chosen to take one road and not another.

We have a Constitution for a reason.  The Bill of Rights, as well as our Common Law rights, exist for valid reasons – to free us from arbitrary power, itself a defining characteristic of tyranny.  Most threats to our rights will not parade down the main street in jack boots, carrying banners, to the strains of martial music.  Tyranny, often initially well-intentioned, comes in many forms, and makes its’ first appearance softly and subtly.  To accept it is to approve of it.  Polite remonstration to the responsible powers is the citizen;’s duty, and if that fails to obtain redress, then the courts and the ballot box remain open as means of correction.  (In the former, not only legal action but jury nullification, the doctrine that jurors have the duty to judge not only the facts of the case but the law itself, are avenues for correcting the abuse of power.)

It is a commonplace to quote Edmund Burke on topics like this, and this writer shall honor tradition by doing so now:

All that is necessary for the triumph of  evil is that good men do nothing.”

A polite, reasoned letter to someone in power who acts wrongly, regardless of motive, is the least that we can do – if we would still believe ourselves to be citizens, not subjects.

 

 

 

 

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