By Jordan W. Charness
In my capacity as a professor of law in the police technologies program at a local college, I teach private law to graduating students who are just about to enter the police academy. It has given me a whole new perspective on law enforcement, and my discussions with other faculty members and police officers has given me another look at roadside verifications, amongst other things.
As a general rule, police officers are not allowed to pull you over unless they have reasonable and probable cause to believe that you have committed an offence, or are in the midst of committing an offence as you drive. Clearly, if a police officer saw you go through a stop sign, he or she would have every right to pull you over since they had reasonable cause to believe that you had just committed an infraction.
But what happens if the police pull you over when you had given no indication you had committed an offence or were about to do so? What if your driving was not erratic but perfectly normal? What if you did not break any rules of the road? Could a police officer still pull you over for a roadside check?
For several years now, the police have been using roadside checks as another law enforcement technique to verify whether or not people are driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and even to verify whether or not they had all their paperwork such as driver’s licenses and registrations in order.
This was challenged in court, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled that this was not a constitutional infringement of your rights. The basic thinking was that since everyone in a certain designated area was pulled over at a checkpoint, that even though there was no reasonable and probable cause, there also was no form of discrimination since the law was being applied to everyone equally. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that this law enforcement technique helped save lives, and while it may take a bit of your time, it was in society’s best interest that this practice continue.
If you do find yourself coming upon a roadblock, common sense dictates that you should behave appropriately when you get there. Being polite and courteous to the police officers will make sure that the situation goes as quickly as possible.
If you do happen to be driving drunk at the time, stuffing your mouth with breath mints or chewing gum will definitely not mask the odour of alcohol, nor will it change your erratic driving. You’d be much better to arrange a designated driver if you know that you will be drinking and then need to be driven home.
Many roadblocks are conducted at night when visibility is poor and when police officers also feel that they may be entering a dangerous situation. Your calmness and general politeness will go a long way towards diffusing what could be an uncomfortable situation for both of you.
Since the Supreme Court has ruled that these roadside checks are legal, you have an obligation to cooperate fully with the police officer. This will mean rolling down your window all the way, answering questions in a direct and clear manner, as well as providing necessary paperwork for verification if asked. You should also roll down your back windows if there are people in the back seats.
One last thing: if you come up upon a roadblock and know that you are inebriated, trying to make a clumsy U-turn through three lanes of traffic will not get you out of a tight spot. Rest assured that the police are on the lookout for this type of behaviour, and you will turn what already may be a bad situation into something much worse.