Muskogee Police will be conducting roadside safety checks starting today and ending March 15, according to Officer Lincoln Anderson. Despite the questionable constitutionality of the stops, the purpose stated is for general vehicle safety and driver adherence to the law.
The checkpoints will be at various locations throughout town, various times during the day and into the nighttime hours, he said.
During the stops, police will be checking drivers licenses, seatbelts, insurance and vehicle safety, “things such as that,” Anderson said.
They will also be checking for impaired drivers. UPDATE: Anderson said officers “aren’t technically looking for drunk drivers.” The earlier statement was a mistake.
While the US Supreme Court has found that DUI checkpoints are violating drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search, the court left it up to the states to determine whether to use them anyway. Eleven states have made them illegal, including Texas, but not Oklahoma. General purpose stops are less clear.
In dissenting the US Supreme Court decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said “I rather doubt that the framers of the Fourth Amendment would have considered ‘reasonable’ a program of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of wrongdoing.”
The Supreme Court has held that there must be a specific law enforcement purpose apart from general law enforcement concerns, to conduct checkpoints. An example from Alabama where police held checkpoints to try to curb criminal activity at a nearby apartment complex was ruled unconstitutional.
A roadblock whose primary purpose “is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control … violate[s] the Fourth Amendment.” City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 48, 121 S. Ct. 447, 148 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2000). In addition, the court ruled “[A] general roadblock ….established on the chance of finding someone who has committed a crime…” is “quite clearly” unconstitutional. The decision, which legally called traffic stops “seizures”, also noted that the “general interest in law enforcement simply does not outweigh the liberty interests of those seized, however brief the seizure may be”
UPDATE 11:14 a.m.: Anderson issued the following release just now:
There has been some confusion and inaccurate information regarding the upcoming roadside safety checks. The following information is to help clear up the confusion and to help our community better understand the purpose of the upcoming checks.
The City of Muskogee ranks #1 per capita in motor vehicle accidents and #2 per capita in accidents involving injuries in the State of Oklahoma. We also see a large number of driver’s without a valid driver’s licenses and no insurance. Based on these facts, we believe these checks have the ability to deter, and or locate some of these violations in an effort to reduce some of these crimes, and to enhance the safety of our motorists and our officers.
These checks will be done to ensure motorists have a valid driver’s license, valid insurance, valid tags, identify any defective or unsafe equipment on the vehicle, and identify seatbelt violations. If a citizen is stopped at one of the checkpoints and they satisfy the requirements listed above, their time at the checkpoint will be minimal.