“The Fourth Amendment does not treat a motorist’s car as his castle,” said U.S. Justice Stephen Breyer in a ruling yesterday allowing police to set up “informational roadblocks” to ask about recent crimes in the area.
The Chicago Sun-Times said the case vindicated Lombard, Ill.’s using such a roadblock six years ago to pass out fliers about a bicyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver the week before. As they queried motorists, they caught a drunk driver, who lost his appeal to the high court. Robert Lidster, 54, argued that the roadblock violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. He won in Illinois courts.
Lidster’s attorney, Don Ramsell, complained that, “from this point forward, all citizens will be subject to police stops and brief interrogations, even when they committed no wrongdoing” Police not expect a proliferation of roadblocks, but Ramsell, says the ruling is “a perfect excuse for it…find me one mile in the Chicago area that hasn’t had a crime occur in the last couple of weeks.”
The Supreme Court case was something of a fluke: Lidster was the only motorist arrested for drunk driving on the night of the roadblock, which ws the only one used by Lombard in the last six years. No motorist interviewed that night reported seeing the hit-and-run, but media accounts of the roadblock prompted a call to police that helped solve the case.
The Supreme Court has approved checkpoints for such purposes as checking for drunk drivers or hunting contraband near U.S. borders, the Washington Post notes. But in 2000, justices invalidated checkpoints in Indianapolis at which officers stopped cars at random and searched them for drugs using sniffer dogs. The court said “the ordinary enterprise of investigating crimes” was not sufficient justification. Yesterday’s case narrowed the scope of the 2000 ruling. The checkpoint approved different from the Indiana one, said Breye, because “police expected the information elicited to help them apprehend not the vehicle’s occupants, but other individuals.”