Saturday night in De Kalb, Illinois and Ryan Scott is driving along when he comes to a checkpoint. What kind of checkpoint is not clear; the officer says it was to see if everyone was “driving safely.” That could make it a DUI or a drug checkpoint. The law is different for each of these. We’ll get to that.
Ryan Scott, knowing his rights, placed a device on his dash to record the upcoming checkpoint. Checkpoints are pretty obvious and easily seen from quite a distance and it seems as though Scott wanted to have a record of whatever happened. It’s sad and frightening that Americans need to be so concerned about any interaction with law enforcement, but things have taken a scary turn lately. So Scott was protecting himself by recording whatever happened next.
What happened next is that Scott is approached by a state trooper, whom he greets cordially, advising him that he is being recorded. Scott asks why he is being pulled over. The reply is that this is a “safety check.” Scott then asks, perhaps a bit prematurely, if he is being detained. The officer replies that Scott is “not free to leave.” At this point, another trooper approaches, flashing his light inside the car. Scott asks if he’s suspected of committing a crime since he’s not free to leave. The trooper reiterates that they are simply checking to make sure everyone is driving safely and asks if he has adequately explained himself. “Absolutely,” Scott replies.
Did the irate trooper really have the right to stop Ryan Scott’s car?
The trooper then asserts that they have a legal right to stop the car — which may or may not be correct — to which Scott replies that he believes the stop is unconstitutional. The trooper says that it is legal and all he had done was ask for Scott’s license, to which Scott replies that he actually had not done so. He had not, according to the video. Further, Scott asserts, he is not legally required to provide that. Again, this depends on what kind of checkpoint this was.
At this point, the other trooper yanks open the car door, barking “Get out!”He yells that driving is a privilege, not a right and insists that Scott get out of the car, something Scott is not legally required to do, and he refuses. The trooper then declares that Scott is resisting (resisting what?) and demands Scott’s license and insurance. As Scott is digging in his wallet for his insurance card, the trooper repeats, “Driving is a privilege, not a right.”
The shouting continues as Scott produces his insurance card, which the trooper scrutinizes. Scott repeats that he was not initially asked for his license and proof of insurance. When he is asked if the address on his card is his current address, Scott invokes the 5th Amendment. Why he did so is not clear. Perhaps he was just tired of being yelled at.
When the trooper asks what the 5th Amendment says, Scott offers that it confers the right to remain silent. “Really?” the trooper sneers, “Are you sure?” Scott replies in the affirmative, the trooper slams the door (which Scott quickly locks) and hands the cards back through the partially open window. Scott wishes the troopers a good night and drives away. As he does so, he speaks to the recorder:
I was just stopped at an unconstitutional CHECKPOINT in DeKalb, Illinois. This was Illinois State Police conducting the unconstitutional searches. You won’t believe how this just went down! I completely forgot to ask for name and badge number because this guy scared the shit out of me. He was not aware that he was being recorded when he ripped my door open. Unbelievable! This kind of misconduct and behavior is not acceptable. This is what happens when you exercise your Constitutional Rights as a law-abiding American citizen. Share the hell out of this and make this video go viral!
Let’s go over a couple of issues this confrontation brings up. First, the checkpoint may indeed be unconstitutional. If it is a DUI checkpoint, your rights still apply. The police may stop you briefly but cannot search you or your car unless they have probable cause or you agree to allow it.
It is unconstitutional to randomly check cars for drugs, so a drug checkpoint is technically not allowed. The police set these up to watch for cars that do a u-turn to avoid the checkpoint, toss something out of the car or pull over and stop. The Supreme Court has ruled that stopping cars randomly exclusively for the purpose of looking for drugs is a violation of the 4th Amendment.
The 4th Amendment reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Sure sounds to me like the Illinois trooper who pulled that car door open violated Scott’s 4th Amendment rights. The nature of the stop was questionable as it was not properly identified. Scott was well within his rights by asking about detention and by invoking his right against self-incrimination. Though I think he was a bit premature in pressing the issue, I applaud him for knowing and exercising his rights as a citizen of the United States. Everyone should know them and be able to respond to law enforcement if they attempt to violate them.
Here’s Ryan Scott’s video from the beginning of the stop: