The Supreme Court hears arguments today on whether police checkpoints on public roads violate motorist privacy rights. The Christian Science Monitor says the case is significant because it is expected to clarify when law enforcers may use roadblocks, including sobriety checkpoints. It comes at a time when the government is adopting tighter security measures in the war on terrorism.
Civil libertarians argue that citizens are presumed to be upstanding and are entitled to be free from intrusions like roadside checkpoints. Police say checkpoints are nonadversarial and help the public. “It is the hallmark of good citizenship to want to help these kinds of investigations,” says Gary Feinerman, solicitor general of Illinois. “Although there is a minor inconvenience to motorists, most people would understand and appreciate that the police were asking for their help.”
Today’s case involves Robert Lidster, who in 1997 was arrested at a checkpoint set up by police in Lombard, Il. to locate witnesses to a fatal hit-and-run case. When police smelled alcohol on Lidster’s breath and noticed his slurred speech, he was charged with driving under the influence. His conviction was overturned when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, that the roadblock violated his privacy rights.