It’s legal, but is it right?

A friend of mine shared this video with me. It’s about six-and-a-half minutes long, and it is video taken from the passenger seat of a car during a DUI checkpoint stop:

httpvh://youtu.be/w-WMn_zHCVo

Here’s the story of what happened.

What happened was that a 21 year-old driver was stopped at DUI checkpoint in Tennessee. He refused to lower his window all the way down, then asked if he was being detained when the officer asked him to pull over for further inspection. When the driver was finally coaxed to step out of the vehicle, the police asked him if they could check his car. The driver refused, so the police brought in a police dog. The police dog apparently sniffed something in the car, and the police then had probable cause to search the dog.

It’s from there that the story gets murky. According to the video, the police did not find anything. According to police, the video was edited to leave out that they did find some sort of “marijuana grainlets” (whatever that means) in the car. Either way, it was a bad situation that got a little bit out of hand — in my opinion — because the driver decided that he was going to stand up for constitutional rights at a DUI checkpoint in Tennessee (perhaps even planning it ahead of time) and because the officer took his job personally.

I’ve been stopped many times by police. One time, when I first arrived in Pennsylvania, a cop pulled me over for expired tags. (I had not renewed them since I moved from Texas. That was my fault.) He waited in his car for about 30 minutes, without coming over to my car, until a state trooper showed up. Then both of them walked over and the state trooper tried to talk to me in Spanish. The cop was surprised and the trooper annoyed when I answered everything in English. Months later, the cop would confess to me that he had only encountered non-English-speaking Hispanics in his town, so he assumed that I was just another one of “those people.”

I kind of understand that because south-central PA is not one of those places where you encounter a lot of Hispanics driving around. (Yes, the population has since grown, but this was 14 years ago.) Furthermore, the obsession with “criminal illegal aliens” would put me on edge if I saw a Hispanic driving a car with Texas plates and expired tags in south-central PA, political correctness be damned. If all I hear is that immigrants are evil, then I’m going to think that the one in the car in front of me is also evil.

It’s wrong, but it’s understandable.

That’s why I understand that this police officer got annoyed when the driver decided that he wasn’t going to roll down his window and then answered the order to pull over with “am I being detained?” Those kinds of actions set off all sorts of red flags because people who act like that are not Libertarians, as the driver in this video apparently is. People who act like that are trying to hide their breath or their looks from the cops at a checkpoint. And, last time I checked, checkpoints are legal in the United States of America. Your mileage may vary in other countries.

That is a big point in all this, the fact that it happened in the United States. There is zero to no chance that the driver was going to end up in the gulag if he was impaired, or if he continued his defiant attitude towards the police officers. Maybe an arrest or a fine would be in his future, but we’re not talking hard time at the penitentiary or a fine so big it breaks him financially. Likewise, the police officers had to operate within the limits of the law. If they did break the law, as the author of the video asserts, the sue. But he didn’t sue and he doesn’t plan to, according to news reports. (If I believed in conspiracy theories, I’d wager that he’s getting enough attention and probably cash from doing this than he would if he sued.)

There is always another side to every story. In this case, we get an edited video that doesn’t quite go well with the unedited dashcam video released by the sheriff’s department involved in the incident. So it leaves me wondering what was being hidden, and how the video was not so much made to inform as it was made to misinform.

Are there bad cops, cops who take their jobs personally instead of professionally? Absolutely. But they are not in the majority, again, in the United States, based on my experience with law enforcement and based on corruption studies. Now, if there is corruption, and someone is mistreated or hurt because of it, there is plenty of recourse for help. There are internal affairs departments within police departments, and there is the federal department of justice. You can also sue a police department or city government in this country. It’s not a banana republic.

But these stories of police abuse of power and corruption make great news, they get you on news shows and they make you a minor celebrity in some circles. I get it. At what price, though?

And that whole “if you want safety and are willing to give up liberty then you don’t deserve either” thing is so 1700’s. It doesn’t apply to the real world where we need to be inconvenienced just a little bit so that drunk drivers don’t plow into vans full of kids, or where we need to follow police directions because the people who don’t do that pull out guns and shoot at cops who are fathers and mothers. In the real world, things can be legal and not right, or illegal and perfectly right, but we don’t get to decide those things at a DUI checkpoint in the middle of the night in Tennessee.

*Of course, I’m not a lawyer, but here is a great breakdown of this precise incident by someone who is.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

One thought on “It’s legal, but is it right?

  1. Well, first, let me say, this deist has one “bible”, that *is* the US Constitution.
    That said, I’m not devout enough to be delusional and not realize that the entire Constitution was framed with the compromises required to sustain a civil society were present.
    Hence, every right was both a responsibility and had limitations placed upon them to preserve the society as a whole.
    We’ll use the ever popular second amendment as an example.
    Before our nation was born and after, *anyone* could purchase a cannon.
    After all, Ben Franklin bought cannon that were, erm, labeled as “fire engines” with Quaker money for the French and Indian war.
    That said, at that time, the civil government *would* tell suppliers of powder, shot and cannon ball to not sell to an insane person who purchased a cannon.
    They didn’t have internet purchasing back then. 😉

    That said, our nation *has* ignored the living hell out of our Constitution for pure convenience. It’s also done so with ratified treaties (which, Constitutionally are the law of the land), agreements with natives and pretty much anything else (the term is, “At the convenience of the Government”).
    So, we do need to be watchful and vigilant.
    So, *I* would not fully lower my window. To be blunt, *I* can purchase that very uniform and facsimile badge. Light kits can be bought cheap on eBay.
    That said, I’m usually cooperative and communicative with law enforcement.
    But, if I do consider an abuse potential being probable, which indeed has happened in the past, I can be… Difficult.
    Nothing actionable in any court in this land, but a significant annoyance and stickler for adherence to legal code.
    In this instance, I’d not fully lower my window. No reason to. Communication is possible, detection of odor is trivial. A request to exit the vehicle is permitted and I’d do so.
    I’d not submit to a search. Howinhell is a search going to suggest drunken driving?! If I’m drinking and driving in the vehicle, the damnable bottles or cans would be all over the vehicle!
    I’d also be an absolute nightmare for the marijuana “pellets” found, as I’m badly allergic to the stuff. *I* would be interested in who planted such a thing, as I’d honestly consider it an attempt to cause anaphylaxis.

    But, if the officer were to approach and tell me it is a sobriety checkpoint, I’d offer for a breath test.
    I’d also, should the officer tell me an armed man was about and committed or attempted to commit a crime, to instruct the officer to draw his firearm to cover me, I would exit the vehicle and place my hands on the fender and follow his instructions for our mutual and societal safety and consent to search for a firearm.
    I’m big on Constitutionality, I’m even bigger on safety and security, within Constitutional reason.
    Most of which has case law supporting it.
    While, I’m no attorney, I’ve worked with them enough and conversed with them enough to learn a *lot* about the law.
    Life itself, much experiencing excesses in the military, taught me about moderation and balance.

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