Dealing With Holiday Roadblocks

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You can avoid being felt-up or scanned (for now) if you avoid flying, but that doesn’t mean you’re not subject to similarly random – and just as intimidating – random stops out on the road.

As the holidays approach, your local police will likely be stepping up the use of “sobriety checkpoints” – and random stops/ID checks/interrogations under other names, too.

You’ve probably not done anything wrong, or even given reason to suspect you might have – but that doesn’t mean they can’t stop you, force you to identify yourself, produce your “papers” – or try to interrogate you as to where you’re going and whatever else they feel like knowing about.

The Supreme Court has ruled they can do all that. But – for now – that is all they can legally do to you. A few tattered shreds of your former right to be free from unreasonable searches still remain. You should know where the line is – what they can force you to do vs. what you don’t (yet) have to submit to:

* You do have to stop –

If there’s a random roadblock up ahead, you’re stuck. If you turn around or try to avoid the checkpoint, they’ll not only go after you – you’ve likely given them “probable cause” to search you and your vehicle instead of just interrogating you and making you show them your “papers.”

* You don’t have to answer their questions –

If the cop asks you where you’re headed, you have the legal right to decline to answer. “I’d rather not say,” or “I prefer not to answer” are examples of lawful, within-your-rights responses to such queries. It will surely annoy the cop, but legally speaking,he has no authority to press the point.

* You do have to identify yourself –

The courts have ruled that the cops can demand ID of anyone, anytime they are out in public – and that you must comply with such a demand, even if you haven’t done anything illegal or even given reason to suspect you may have. It’s completely Soviet, of course – but that’s the nature of modern America. You should therefore hand over your ID and remain quiet and calm. If the cop asks whether that’s you on the ID, confirm your identity. But say no more.

* You don’t have to let them search your car –

Cops will often ask whether you have anything “they should know about” on your person or in your vehicle. Then they will ask whether you mind whether they “take a look.” The way it’s phrased sounds gentle enough but it’s very intimidating coming from an armed authority figure shining a light in your face, with all the implied threat that conveys. Many people cave in and say, go head. Even if you have nothing to hide, you should never give consent to a search of your person or vehicle. Not only is it an affront to your dignity and an assault on your most basic rights as a human being, it’s a fact that some cops are corrupt and more than a few have been caught (later) planting “evidence” in people’s cars, such as a small amount of pot – in order to seize the vehicle under asset forfeiture laws.

Bottom line: Be respectful and avoid being confrontational, but don’t willingly give up your rights, whatever’s left of them.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. What’s particularly GALLING about the SCOTUS decisions allowing this crap is that at least SOME of the so-called ‘liberal’ justices (who one would THINK would be opposed to things like this) had to vote in favor of these decisions! It makes me wonder that TPTB have on the SCOTUS justices to make them vote against their record and against what one would think is their natural inclination…

  2. For what it’s worth you do have a right to make a turn to avoid a checkpoint if you can do so legally and at least in California sobriety checkpoints are supposed to be set up in order to allow that opportunity. Of course of someone makes an illegal turn (e.g. U-turn when prohibited or crossing two sets of solid lines or failing to signal) then that is cause for citation and fine.

    • Hi Dale,

      Technically, that’s true. Just as – technically – the Fourth Amendment is still law.

      But the reality is that you’re very likely to be pursued and stopped if you attempt to avoid a checkpoint. And the courts are likely to support that, too.

  3. Way too much is State dependent; read the appropo Stop and Identify Statute that is controlling law in your venue.

  4. “The courts have ruled that the cops can demand ID of anyone, anytime they are out in public – and that you must comply with such a demand, even if you haven’t done anything illegal or even given reason to suspect you may have”

    EP- can you provide cite?

    • In the 2004 Hiibel v Nevada case, a state “stop and ID” statute was upheld as constitutional. As far as I am aware, this A: does not have any bearing on states that have not adopted such a statute, and B: In no state are you required to carry physical ID unless operating a vehicle, carrying concealed etc…

      Even in states such as Nevada that do have “stop and ID” statutes, reasonable and articulable suspicion by the officer of a crime is required.

      I have been arrested once in my life. I was charged with resist, delay, or obstruction of a public officer for refusing to provide my ID (while openly carrying a sidearm). I knew my state had no “stop and ID” statute, which is why I held my ground. My unwillingness to relinquish my 4A protections landed me in county detention for several hours on a Friday night, but I would make the same decision again (and I have, with better luck!)

      The DA dismissed the case at face value, but I was literally saved by the cell phone video I used to document my encounter.

      At the hearing, the arresting officer met explained to the DA (in front of my attorney) that he and his cohorts had asked me repeatedly to leave the premises and I refused. Upon hearing this, and before reviewing my video, the DA offered to pursue a lesser misdemeanor of trespassing. We then showed him the tape and he promptly dismissed the charge. In the 2.5 minute tape I can clearly be heard saying, “If I am not welcome here I would be happy to leave”. To which the officers replied, “We’re not asking you to leave, we’re asking you to show us your ID.”

      Black and f*&^ing white!

      EP – If you’re interested I’d be happy to share the video with you privately.

      Here is a good and brief read on the limits of the Hiibel ruling in states lacking ID requirements during a lawful detention (where the most that could be required is verbally stating name, address, etc.)

      Your statement in the post above raised my eyebrows as it is completely out of touch with an area of law that I researched extensively. I’d love to hear any supporting case law in which case I’ll stop operating under bad (outdated, perhaps?) info.

      Love your articles. As a fellow seatbeltless driver who treats deserted red lights as stop signs, I’m with ya buddy!

      • Adam On March, I hope you will have a change of heart and publish the video on you tube for all to see. These types of interactions are part of the growing lexicon of police interactions that make us all better at them. Congratulations anyway.

    • I heard if you are not driving, you only have to give them your name. Many people not driving don’t carry an ID.

      • Hi Victor,

        My understanding is that’s generally true – so long as you’re not operating a motor vehicle, you are not required (legally) to carry a government ID. However, check the law in your state to be sure.


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