Celebrating freedom with checkpoints

By Andy Winemiller - awinemiller@civitasmedia.com

The Independence Day holiday just passed. With it came celebrations in honor of our nation severing ties with a tyrannical king. Fireworks lit the sky, kids snatched candy in the streets and many folks fired up the grill.

One group of folks has an odd way to celebrate such a day — a day in which freedom and liberty is forefront. Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States celebrate the day with checkpoints.

Trampling on the constitutional rights of Americans seems like a weird way to celebrate Independence Day. While getting drunk drivers off the streets is a good thing, the end just doesn’t justify the means.

Of course, the fact I believe police checkpoints violate our rights under the Fourth Amendment is only my opinion. I deem it to be a pretty unreasonable seizure when one is stopped for no good reason and held against their will.

Sadly, a majority of the nine people who matter disagree with me — or at least did when I was 4-years-old. They let the fear of a possible tragic event overshadow the importance of guaranteed individual liberties.

In a 1990 case, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled a sobriety checkpoint program in Michigan did not violate the rights of the citizenry under the Fourth Amendment.

“The balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program,” wrote then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

It was a split decision, however. Something for which I’m thankful. It means at least a couple justices valued our constitutional rights.

“In the face of the ‘momentary evil’ of drunken driving, the Court today abdicates its role as the protector of that (Fourth Amendment) fundamental right. I respectfully dissent,” wrote then-Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall in the dissenting opinion.

Drunk driving is a crime, and it is far from victim-less. Nearly 10,000 people died as a result of impaired people getting behind the wheel in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It’s a real issue, and I would advocate for harsh punishment for those who opt to drive while impaired. Those who kill somebody as a result of their poor decisions related to drinking and driving should be locked up, and the key should be thrown away.

That stated, I’m not willing to let the fear of a possible tragedy take precedent over the very real destruction of my rights.

Sobriety checkpoints remind me of a place I once lived. There, authorities needed to crack down on everything from drugs to illegal weapons. A person or vehicle could be stopped for no good reason, and a search could be conducted at the will of authorities.

Checkpoints stood every few miles along roadways. They probably helped make the area safer, but what did the local citizenry forfeit? They forfeited their rights to enjoy life without government intrusion.

That place was Afghanistan, a police state for all intensive purposes — at least at the time I was there.

Police here do an important job, and if I zip past one at 80 mph I deserve to get pulled over. I also want that officer to pull over somebody swerving or driving erratically.

What I don’t want is to be unconstitutionally held at a checkpoint as an officer examines my credentials and determines whether or not he ought to give me a hard time that night.

Sometimes precedent matters, and the precedent we set in allowing ourselves to be subjected to such tactics akin of those seen in a police state is a slippery slope toward shredding the Fourth Amendment.

I think it’s ridiculous law enforcement agencies are allowed to celebrate liberty and freedom by forcing such searches upon the residents of 38 states, including North Carolina.

The encroachment on our rights and the slap in the face to our founding fathers is done for what? To catch a guy who had three beers at dinner? Or maybe nab the woman who can’t find her proof of insurance?

I’d prefer to keep my rights and take my chances with the drunk guy.


By Andy Winemiller


Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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