Suspicionless Sobriety Checkpoints:
A growing threat to individual liberty

Eleven states currently prohibit suspicionless checkpoints within their boundaries. These states appear in green to the right & include:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

It's well past time Arizona was added to the list of state's recognizing the individual right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.


Overview:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall NOT be violated..."

One of the most ubiquitous forms of suspicionless checkpoints is the sobriety checkpoint. Many folks are under the false impression that sobriety checkpoints are legal throughout the country based upon Michigan Dept. of State Police V. Sitz. While the Supreme Court did in fact carve out a 4th Amendment exception for sobriety checkpoints in this case, legal analysis doesn't stop there. Before a sobriety checkpoint can be considered 'legal', it must not only pass constitutional muster at the federal level, it must do so at the state level as well while abiding by all applicable statutory requirements. What this means is that 11 states currently prohibit sobriety checkpoints within their boundaries. In the remaining 39 States, one or more of the following conditions exist:

  • Roadblocks are explicitly authorized by statutory law
  • Courts have upheld them despite the lack of specific statutory authorization
  • Courts have failed to strike down or review checkpoints conducted unilaterally by local police

What's especially ironic about this scenario is that even though it was a Michigan case that gave rise to the 4th amendment loophole to begin with, Michigan is still one of the 11 State's that explicitly prohibit sobriety checkpoints within its boundaries. After SCOTUS ruled in favor of Michigan's State police regarding their roadblock program, the case was remanded back to the Michigan Supreme Court for further review. The Michigan Supreme Court felt so strongly about the issue, they ruled that regardless of the federal Supreme Court's ruling, the State Constitution still made such roadblock programs illegal within Michigan's boundaries.

In Arizona, there's no state law explicitly addressing the issue of sobriety checkpoints. There are state statutes however that explicitly define when a peace officer may stop an individual. These statutes make it perfectly clear that a peace officer must have reasonable suspicion in order to initiate a stop. Further, the state constitution explicitly recognizes an individual's right to privacy that can only be pre-empted by an explicit act of the legislature. Nonetheless, AZ courts have upheld the legality of sobriety checkpoints mainly based upon SCOTUS's ruling in Michigan V. Sitz. Additionally, AZ courts have relied upon the 'compelling government interest' doctrine, a doctrine commonly used by courts across the country as a basis for justifying otherwise unlawful government behavior prejudicial to individual rights.

One of the purposes of this website is to shine a spotlight on legal issues surrounding sobriety checkpoints in general and expose common misperceptions used as justification to continue existing sobriety checkpoint operations.

Please feel free to explore the articles, commentaries, and documentation appearing below.


Pima County Sheriff Dept. Checkpoint Program:

Continuing on with an ineffective sobriety checkpoint program designed to intimidate Pima County residents instead of protecting them, the Pima County Sheriff's Department has scheduled additional suspicionless checkpoints in and around Tucson, Arizona for the remainder of 2007.

These operations are paid for in full by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and therefore the program falls outside local budget priorities or constraints. Additionally, sheriff deputies participating in these blatant violations of your traveling rights are paid overtime and have benefited to the tune of $140,000 in overtime pay over the past two years. These facts raise the question of who the sheriff is actually serving - faceless bureaucrats two-thousand plus miles away in Washington, D.C. or local communities..

The next few scheduled roadblock appear below followed by the results of recently conducted roadblocks.

Upcoming PCSD Suspicionless Roadblocks:
October 26 , 2007 (Friday)
October 27, 2007 (Saturday)

Recent Gestapo Roadblocks:
Date:
Location:
Suspicionless Seizures:
Field Sobriety Tests:
DUI Arrests:
DUI Convictions:
Other Arrests:
September 3, 2007
(Monday)
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
September 1, 2007
(Saturday)
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
August 31, 2007
(Saturday)
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
unk
August 4, 2007
(Saturday)
8500 N. Oracle
960
18
7
unk
4
July 7, 2007
(Saturday)
Ruthrauff/Romero
This roadblock was a "Phantom" operation where the county sheriff attempts to deceive the public into believing a roadblock is in the process of being setup or just ending.
July 6, 2007 (Friday)
Ina/Mona Lisa
1434
13
6
unk
5
July 4, 2007 (Wednesday)
Valencia/Westover
1239
5
3
unk
12
May 28, 2007 (Monday)
5800 W. Valencia Rd.
704
8
4
unk
2
May 26, 2007 (Saturday)
Ruthrauff/Romero
1081
12
6
unk
6
May 23, 2007 (Wednesday)
Tanque Verde/Paseo Tierra
188
12
6
unk
9
May 18, 2007 (Friday)
Palo Verde / Michigan
1776
6
2
unk
4
May 11, 2007 (Friday)
4700 N. Swan Rd
1332
32
13
unk
3
May 5, 2007 (Saturday)
8200 S. Nogales Highway
698
31
11
unk
7

For an analysis of the Pima County Sheriff Department's sobriety checkpoint program, this article can be referenced.

Locations of upcoming roadblocks are not posted because the sheriff's department refuses to release this information prior to conducting checkpoint operations. What's also of interest is that the Sheriff's Dept. doesn't release information regarding the number of successful prosecutions associated with checkpoint DUI arrests. The Arizona Daily Star recently researched this issue and discovered that out of 280+ arrests, only 75 successful prosecutions have been made. The remaining cases have been dismissed due to constitutional issues, lack of evidence, shoddy police work, etc.

Additionally, while no such cases have been reported in Pima County yet, several police officers from around the country have been arrested in recent years for faking DUI evidence and wrongly arresting unimpaired drivers in order to boost their arrest rate.

The latest PCSD checkpoint statistics are available here and PCSD checkpoint guidelines are available here.


Articles:
Title:
Description:
Source:
The claim references a persistent blood infection, centered around the needle entry point, that still exists months after being forced to endure a blood draw by a minimally trained sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop under unsafe and unclean environmental conditions.
Pima County sobriety checkpoints have netted a tiny number of DUI arrests despite stopping tens of thousands of drivers since 2005, an Arizona Daily Star investigation has found. Since the
Sheriff's Department began staging checkpoints nearly two years ago — overriding authorities' previous concerns that the stops yielded few arrests — fewer than 1 percent of the more than 46,000 drivers stopped have been arrested on suspicion of DUI.
Arizona Daily Star
"...the sheriff's department will be conducting sobriety roadblocks on July 4th and 6th of this year while augmenting roadblocks with saturation patrols throughout the upcoming weekend. These roadblocks will be conducted absent any reasonable suspicion, general warrant or writ of assistance..."
Freedom's Phoenix
Over a 15 month period, 36,798 vehicles were stopped absent reasonable suspicion in Pima County, AZ. After being stopped, officers demanded that 995 drivers take a field sobriety test (FST). Of those FST's, only 219 resulted in arrest for driving under the influence.
Freedom's Phoenix
Brett Darrow, 19, had his video camera rolling after being stopped at a sobriety roadblock in St. Louis where he was detained and threatened with arrest after declining to enter into a conversation with police regarding his personal travel itinerary.
Newspaper.com
"Sobriety checkpoints represent just such a violation which in turn lead to further abuses by those who profess to serve and protect us..."
Freedom's Phoenix

It didn't matter whether drivers were drunk for state troopers from Troop I in Bethany to charge them with driving under the influence. Three years ago, drunken-driving arrests were a game for several troopers in Troop I, according to a scathing report released Monday attacking how the agency polices itself.

Republican American
A MADD 'Top Cop' was arrested and charged with making false DUI arrests and tampering with evidence. This cop was recently honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his unusually high number of DUI arrests...
Atlantic City Press
A Pima County judge who recognized that field sobriety tests are inherently subjective was rebuked by an appeals court for his attempt to bring fairness and justice back to DUI cases
Azstarnet.com
California is using suspicionless sobriety checkpoints as a pretense to stop and fine people for infractions unrelated to driving under the influence
Newspaper.com
A Pima County, AZ sheriff's deputy used a taser to torture a non-violent man in order to force him to submit to a blood draw. The purpose of the blood draw was to determine the man's blood/alcohol ratio.
KOLD News
A former Tennessee police officer speaks out about about the current state of DUI laws across the country and provides tips on how to survive a law enforcement stop.
Modern Drunkard Magazine

Documentation:
Title:
Description:
Source:
A dissenting view from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge that points out DUI checkpoints are less effective in terms of manpower and arrests for removing drunk drivers from the road than other policing methods and consequently should be deemed unconstitutional.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Don't believe sobriety checkpoints are a gross waste of time and limited resources? Discover it for yourself in these statistics published by the Pima County Sheriff Dept. from a 15 month period ending December 2006. 219 DUI arrests were made after 36,798 individuals were seized and searched absent reasonable suspicion.

There are opportunity costs associated with every choice we make. How many drunk drivers went undetected on our roads because the sheriff was too busy harassing 36,779 law abiding individuals to notice them?

Pima County Sheriff Department
A well researched and documented policy paper by Radley Balko, formerly of the CATO institute, detailing the latest rise in the war on alcohol and the price we're paying for it.
The CATO Institute:
Radley Balko

Pima County Sheriff Department Guidelines

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that any law enforcement agency conducting suspicionless checkpoints must generate guidelines to minimize individual officer discretion at the checkpoint and limit the primary purpose of the checkpoint to issues of immediate public safety. This means government agents can't engage in general crime control absent individual suspicion of wrongdoing but can look for impaired drivers who may pose an immediate danger to the traveling public.

I acquired a copy of checkpoint guidelines from the Pima County Sheriff Department after submitting an Open Records request to the agency. The documentation appearing below is the result of that request. Of interest in this documentation is that individuals can choose to avoid a checkpoint by turning around prior to entering it and driving away. Additionally, individuals can refuse to roll down their window and interact with the police absent reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The documentation indicates the police cannot take action against individuals choosing to exercise their rights in this fashion but does indicate such individuals may be subject to additional scrutiny.

Also of interest is how police officers are paid for participating in these unreasonable searches and seizures. More regarding this issue can be found in the next section.

Document Description:
Date:
Type:
Open Records Request - A PCSD Open Records request for a copy of the department's roadblock guideline and procedures
06-Sep-2005
157 KB pdf
Roadblock Guidelines - The Pima County Sheriff Department Sobriety Checkpoint Guidelines in force on Labor Day weekend 2005
05-Oct-2005
451 KB pdf
Public Notice - The roadblock press release from the Sheriff Dept. indicating a sobriety checkpoint would be conducted in Pima County within 24 hours. The location of the checkpoint was not released to the public
05-Oct-2005
156 KB pdf
Memorandum - A memo from Sgt. Woolridge regarding the upcoming roadblock operation. The memo indicates the operation will be funded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and that all participants should work their schedule so that time spent at the roadblock constitutes overtime.
05-Oct-2005
547 KB pdf
Sobriety Roadblock Briefing - A briefing conducted prior to the operation in which specific instructions were presented to every officer. Of interest are the instructions that absent reasonable suspicion, individuals who choose to avoid the roadblock or not roll down their window and interact with officers after being stopped should be allowed to go on their way. In addition, a driver's license check or check for other documentation was not part of the operation. I received over 30 copies of the briefing - one for each agent participating in the checkpoint
05-Oct-2005
508 KB pdf
Sobriety Roadblock Statistics - A Sheriff Dept. report indicating 571 stops were made during the operation and only 4 DUI arrests resulted - a hit rate of 0.7%.
05-Oct-2005
240 KB pdf

Governor's Office of Highway Safety

To find out what's really going on, one needs to follow the money. When I first started researching the question of where the money was coming from to pay for suspicionless checkpoint operations in Pima County, I quickly discovered it wasn't originating from local sources. Rather, it was originating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency that doles out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to states for various traffic related programs.

In Arizona it works like this. The NHTSA funnels money for conducting suspicionless checkpoints against the traveling public through the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS). The GOHS turns around and redistributes this money to local law enforcement agencies willing to adopt the NHTSA's agenda of proliferating suspicionless checkpoints around the country. Specifically, sheriff deputies participating in roadblock operations are paid overtime from funds provided by the NHTSA and the sheriff's dept. receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money every year from the NHTSA to purchase equipment for conducting these and similar operations.

Below you'll find documentation from the GOHS related to grant proposals from the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Please note the federal control numbers on the forms.

Document Description:
Date:
Type:
2006 DUI van grant proposal includes a $100,000 request for a new DUI enforcement van. The van includes a phlebotomist chair where a cop with little to no medical credentials will use a needle to draw your blood on the spot. If you resist, this may happen to you.
27SEP05
2.22 MB pdf
2006 funding grant proposal - a request for federal funding in excess of $219,000 for overtime pay, window tint meters, breath testing equipment, radars, recording equipment, etc to support DUI task force operations.
04APR05
1.09 MB pdf


General Links:
Title:
Description:
A discussion on sobriety checkpoints from Wikipedia
A site with lots of links to current roadblock locations along with Federal cases regarding law enforcement powers associated with random stops.
A website drawing attention to misconceptions and false statements from MADD and the NHTSA regarding drunk driving enforcement
A Federal Supreme Court case defining the boundaries of law enforcement actions at suspicionless public safety checkpoints
Utah Supreme Court rules that highway checkpoints set up for specific public safety purposes cannot be used as a pretext to subject vehicles and drivers to unwarranted searches. Note - the state of Utah has specific legislation in place that authorizes police to set up administrative checkpoints (license/registration checks). This is not the case in Arizona where no such legislation exists
Sierra Times article discussing pre-textual checkpoints
The Identity Project (IDP) exists to uphold the freedom to exist, wander, and live anonymously within our own country if we so choose. 'Right To Travel' resources and court cases are highlighted along with a general discussion forum.
News report highlighting a recent Tennessee Supreme Court case.
A Washington Post article highlighting yet another permutation of suspicionless checkpoints/roadblocks. D.C. Police are now conducting so-called 'safety stops' where the personal information of individuals stopped is entered into a database - regardless of whether or not they are cited for any violation.
The Constitution of the United States pretty clearly says that police can't just stop someone and conduct an investigation unless there are "articulable facts" indicating possible criminal activity. So how can they do exactly that with DUI roadblocks?
I went out to investigate, and there are a number of police vehicles plus a number of civilians dressed in warm (and colorful) winter garb. I spoke to one of the latter, she indicated that they were from MADD.
Bad Drunk Driving Laws, False Evidence and a Fading Constitution


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