FLORENCE, S.C. — A YouTube video of a July 4 sobriety checkpoint in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has spurred questions and conversation nationwide about highway checkpoints and constitutional rights.
The issue is a complicated one, but attorneys on both sides of the courtroom agree that the videographer’s claim that his constitutional rights were violated is not entirely correct.
In the video, which has gotten more than 3 million hits in a week, Chris Kalbaugh pulls up to a DUI checkpoint in Rutherford County, Tenn., on Independence Day. The video shows Tennessee Deputy A.J. Ross ask Kalbaugh to roll down his window. Kalbaugh’s window is about 2 inches down already and he replies, “It’s fine. I can hear you.”
Ross, visibly irritated, asks Kalbaugh his age and then walks away without waiting for a response. When the officer returns, he instructs Kalbaugh to pull his car over to the roadside. Discussions between the two men escalate into a debate about constitutional rights and Kalbaugh’s knowledge of the law. Meanwhile, another officer brings out drug dogs to sniff around Kalbaugh’s car. The 21-year-old driver tells the deputy that he had complied with the sobriety checkpoint law by stopping, but should not have been detained and searched.
“The officer orders me to pull over and get out of my car, demands me to give identification (it is only lawful for him to ask), gets the drug sniffing K-9, lies about me having ‘illegal drugs’ in the car, searches without consent and tells me that it is OK to take away constitutional rights for safety. All while not being detained,” Kalbaugh’s video description reads. “All this because my window was not lowered enough to his preference. I broke no laws whatsoever. On a day that we are supposed to be celebrating freedom and liberty. At the end of the encounter, the officer did not want to give me his name when I asked him. After I repeatedly asked him, he finally gave it to me.”
Kalbaugh went on to state that he has the constitutional freedom to travel without being randomly stopped by law enforcement officers and questioned.
Well, sort of, according to Florence defense attorney Henry M. “Hank” Anderson Jr.
When it comes to road blocks, drivers absolutely have rights … as do law enforcement officers.
“As for the license and registration, you gotta give it to them,” Anderson said. “They absolutely can ask for it and you’ve got to show it to them. And there’s a reason for that … the license belongs to the state, not you. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Secondly, they’re checking to make sure you’re not wanted or your license isn’t under suspension or anything like that. That’s part of their job and they have that right.”
Past that, Anderson said a driver is not required to answer any questions, take any field sobriety tests or allow a search of his vehicle. But, whatever is in plain view inside the car is fair game and officers can run a drug dog around the exterior perimeter of a vehicle without any specific cause.
“So, no, they can’t just go through your glove box or under your seats, but if they see, a gun lying half out from under a seat or some type of drug paraphernalia, that’s probable cause,” Anderson said. “And regardless of what happens, I would always advise that a driver be respectful. You don’t have to answer questions or take the tests, but you can be respectful in your refusal.”
Thousands of drivers, just like Kalbaugh, encounter roadside safety checks each year. These checkpoints have grown increasingly common over the past few years, with more and more of them popping up on busy streets and intersections across the nation.
Though they may seem random, officers must follow a set number of DUI checkpoint rules and guidelines before a roadblock can legally be put in place.
As specified by the U.S. Supreme Court, DUI checkpoints are designed to protect and deter drivers from operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. To make sure officers don’t use checkpoints simply to apprehend offenders, federal DUI guidelines require law enforcement to announce the date and location of any planned roadblock to the public.
In addition, officers are required to provide a valid reason for setting up a DUI checkpoint—such as a high number of drunk driving arrests or alcohol-related accidents in a particular area, for example. There must also be a specific plan regarding which vehicles will be stopped during the roadblock and any deviation from this plan must be recorded.
The Twelfth Circuit Law Enforcement Network (LEN), consisting of all of the law enforcement agencies in Florence and Marion counties, routinely provides notice of its plans to conduct traffic safety checkpoints in both counties each month.
“The focus of the checkpoints is the prevention of motor vehicle accidents, the detection of drunken or impaired drivers and the enforcement of motor vehicle violations. These cannot be set up for general crime control,” Florence County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Nunn said. “We stop every vehicle and we keep records on every checkpoint. We follow the law to a T and we’ve never had one thrown out — at least that I’m aware of.”