3/11/2020Federal Appeals Court Upholds Papers Please Roadblock
Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals says roadblocks for the sole purpose of checking driver paperwork are constitutional.
Motorists who are minding their own business will have to stop and show their papers at police roadblocks under a federal ruling handed down last week. The Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals found nothing wrong with the suspicionless stops conducted by the Columbus County, North Carolina Sheriff's Office (CCSO) on July 1, 2014 that snared motorist Leroy Moore Jr. Although he committed no traffic violations, he was pulled over and found to have 28 grams of crack cocaine in his possession. Moore argued the roadblock itself had been a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment's requirements that seizures be at least based on a reasonable suspicion of misconduct.
A three-judge panel then had to decide whether the checkpoint set up on a county road was constitutional. Uniformed officers blocked the road and required everyone coming through to present their license and registration papers before being allowed to proceed. The roadblocks were designed to generate citations for minor equipment violations. What caught the deputies' eyes in Moore's case were the bullet holes in the driver's side door. Moore agreed to let them search his car, and the drugs were found along with a rifle and thirty-seven rounds of ammunition.
Moore's attorneys noted that the US Supreme Court had banned roadblocks used for general crime control purposes, which was what this checkpoint appeared to be. In a series of cases, the high court allowed roadblocks to find drunk drivers, illegal aliens, or to investigate a particular criminal incident. The justices have never ruled that license plate-checking roadblocks are permissible, but lower courts have pushed the theory that they are legal in a series of rulings.
"Application of the foregoing framework to the facts at hand compels the conclusion that the CCSO checkpoint, and hence the stop of Moore's automobile, were permissible under the Fourth Amendment," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. "As noted, courts have upheld the constitutionality of police checkpoints organized for such a purpose.... Moore does not seriously dispute that the roadblock adequately advanced a significant public interest. Nor could he."
The court insisted the roadblock was "minimally intrusive" because it was visible and the police officers were wearing uniforms. The officers also did not detain anyone longer than necessary, according to the court.
Moore will now have to serve five years in prison and five years on parole. A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.