Police using Fourth Amendment busting roadside stops to check for criminal activity

Steve Watson
Jan 2, 2013

In a practice that officials acknowledge has been ongoing for more than a year now, cops in Texas are setting up roadside checkpoints and photographing “suspects”, citing gang culture as a justification.

The McAllen Monitor reports that the South Texas Civil Rights Project, based in Alamo, has taken up issue with the San Juan Police Department, noting that “what they’re doing could be unconstitutional.”

“Police have always been pressing against restrictions the Constitution puts on protecting rights of individuals.” STCRP lawyer Joseph Martin said in response to the increase in the use of checkpoints.

“Passengers are questioned and, in certain instances, individuals are asked by investigators to voluntarily submit to having photographs taken of their gang-affiliated tattoos. The information is then vetted for inclusion in a state database.” reports the Monitor.

While police claim that the checkpoints are limited and do not target innocent people, the report states that “most cars attempting to pass through are stopped.”

Police have also admitted that while the checkpoints are part of a larger effort to curtail gang activity, they are also being used to perform checks for insurance, seatbelts and driver’s licenses.

The STCRP notes that the checkpoint activity most likely represents a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and constitutes unreasonable search and seizure.

“There’s basic constitutional issues involved, obviously the Fourth Amendment,” STCRP’s Martin said, calling the move toward checkpoints “a constant pressure people need to be aware of.”

“On the base of it, it seems highly questionable on whether this kind of checkpoint is constitutional,” Martin said, noting that in Texas, police are prohibited from conducting roadblocks to check for criminal activity.

The issue has gained more publicity since the STCRP filed an open records request with the San Juan police Department. While checkpoint activity in the South Texas town has made the headlines, it is far from an isolated case. Law enforcement sources in Texas have been warning Infowars for months now that intrusive and potentially unconstitutional checkpoints are on the rise state-wide.

The gang element is a useful loophole for police to exploit because they can claim they are merely conducting research on gang membership, and asking for voluntary information from gang members while conducting the checkpoints.

“Additionally, it can be a slippery slope that leads to profiling, particularly based on race, STCRP lawyer Martin said. A member of the public is often hard pressed to deny the request of a police officer, even if inclusion in the database is voluntary,” he added.

Elsewhere in Texas, police have recently called for “permanent” DWI checkpoints in order to “save lives,” raising the possibility that Texans could be forced to show their papers, submit to breathalyzer tests, or even be mandated to have blood drawn whenever they drive down the street.

Given the fact that San Antonio is one of a number of cities across the country which enforces “no refusal” blood-draws against people police suspect of driving under the influence, Texans could find themselves with a needle stuck in their arm simply for exercising their right to mobility.

The ACLU recently dubbed a 100-mile area in-land from the border as the “Constitution-free Zone,” noting that 2 out of 3 Americans live within this buffer zone – around 190 million people in total. Americans in these areas are forced to answer questions when they drive through Border Patrol checkpoints. Many are standing up for their 4th amendment rights by refusing to answer such questions.

The TSA has also announced that it will conduct “security assessments” on highways having already set up checkpoints on interstate roads in Tennessee last year. The federal agency was responsible for over 9,000 checkpoints across the United States in 2011.