By James Baxter, NMA President
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution has been strangled with convoluted legal rationalizations, riddled with bullets in the form of Supreme Court decisions and drawn and quartered by “creative” law enforcement interpretations.
This old and oft referred to amendment, an attempt to protect the privacy and property rights of individuals, is dead. Driving any more nails into its rotted casket is a redundant waste of time, but the US Supreme Court persists.
For motorists, or anyone on a public road or sidewalk, the illusion of personal privacy is but a dim memory. Random searches, based on the flimsiest excuses, roadblocks, “frisking” and “patting down” passengers or pedestrians, because they “might have a weapon” and roadside interrogations are now all quite legal, or are carried out as if they are because no one dare argue to the contrary.
The US Supreme Court is currently hearing a case dealing with a Virginia man who was “arrested” for driving with a suspended license, even though the state of Virginia does not authorize arrests for minor traffic crimes, which is what driving on a suspended license is considered.
The court long ago held that once a person is arrested they are subject to being searched. If their car is within finding distance, it too can be searched. This Court ruled in 2001 that a person could be arrested for violating virtually any traffic law, including the failure to wear a seat belt. And, once arrested you have no fourth amendment protections.
For all practical purposes, this gives the police the power to stop, arrest, and search anyone they feel like “checking out” or harassing. Arabs might be the flavor of the day on Monday, Tuesday it’s blacks in luxury cars and on Wednesday it’s young men driving sport compacts.
The options/excuses for a stop are endless; burned out bulbs, unused seat belts, (real or imagined) failure to properly signal, touching the center line, hitting the shoulder, two MPH over the speed limit, driving too slow, rolling a stop sign, rolling a right on red, failure to yield to a pedestrian, or talking on a cell phone (inattentive driving).
If the police want to stop you, they can. If they want to arrest you, they can. If they want to search you and your vehicle and your passengers, they can.
That’s how the land’s highest court has ruled.