Pennsylvania Police Stop Cars to Check if You’re a Criminal or Not

The idea may seem foreign to us but there are places in the world where police can stop a driver who has done absolutely nothing wrong just to check and see if that driver is a criminal or not.  “Where is this place?” you ask.  Answer, right here in Pennsylvania.

How Pennsylvania is Becoming a Police State

Under the guise of  DUI Checkpoints, Pennsylvania police are literally stopping cars to check if you’re a criminal or not.  Not only is this an invasion of our privacy, but in my opinion, it is highly unconstitutional.  As one of the leading DUI lawyers in Pennsylvania, I have defended a number of cases stemming from Pennsylvania DUI checkpoints. Here is a review of some of the laws related to DUI Checkpoints:

  1. Under the Fourth Amendment, it is unconstitutional to randomly stop and search someone.  A police officer must have probable cause that a crime was committed in order to conduct a search.
  2. A DUI checkpoint is a violation of the Fourth Amendment because there is no probable cause to stop every motorist.  However, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that since the intrusion is minimal (I hold that this intrusion is not minimal), DUI checkpoints can be conducted for the overall objective of reducing DUI. (See Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz)

The Supreme Court ruled that these stops can be conducted for DUI.  The problem here is that police departments are setting up DUI checkpoint all over Pennsylvania and stopping people to check if they are criminals or not. They are arresting people for all types of violations that have nothing to do with DUI.  In fact if you look at most of the headlines for DUI checkpoints they actually arrest less DUI offenders than they do other criminal offenders (e.g., people with outstanding warrants, drugs, and other traffic or equipment citations).  Now,they no longer need probable cause to stop and search you and charge you with a crime or issue a citation that has nothing to do with DUI.

Recently, Pennsylvania police conducted “Operation Iron Shield”.  The initiative involved setting up multiple DUI Checkpoints in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Here are the results:

The operative yielded 27 drug arrests, 31 fugitive arrests, 13 non-drug arrests, 40 DUI arrests, 22 underage citations, 342 traffic citations, one recovered stolen vehicle, eight liquor control violations and two arrests for parole violation.

THIS MEANS THAT 446 NON-DUI VIOLATIONS AND ONLY 40 DUI ARRESTS.  This means that for every DUI accusation they had more than 11 non-DUI.  Of the actual fruitful police work only about 8% were for what the checkpoint was alleged created for.  The other 92% was for non-DUI.  How can this be justified as a DUI Checkpoint???

Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoints
Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoints: A Violation of Our Civil Liberties

The police departments involved will tout these number as a huge successes but those who know the constitution of our country will cry foul.  A high number of arrests may seem like efficient law enforcement but those of us who deal with the police everyday know that many of these arrests are due to police officers overreaching and arresting people because of the goal they have in mind.  Many times a police officer is awarded for a high number of arrests.  This type of “added incentive” many times corrupts judgment and promotes biased results.

( Please see our post Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer examines DUI checkpoint statistics.)

The ends do not justify the means.  If our only goal was to arrest criminals, then we should just let police randomly raid any house they wish.  They would be able to arrest an enormous number of criminals that way.  We can turn the whole country into a police state where there is no probable cause needed to make arrests.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is attacking our civil liberties all in the good name of DUI enforcement.  One of the comments on the quoted article sums it up best: “Was it Operation Iron Shield or Operation Iron Curtain?”

Justin McShane

PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.

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