Civil Liberties

South Dakota Court Sets Up a Roadblock to Avoiding the Cops


If you'd rather turn around and head the other way than burn gas waiting for some flatfoot (yes, I actually used that word) to get around to sniffing your breath and asking about your destination this evening, you might just want to work on building up those reserves of patience. Last week, The Newspaper reports, South Dakota's be-robed supreme jurists ruled that, while a driver making a 180 at the sight of a police checkpoint isn't itself sufficient grounds for pulling a car over, pretty much anything else on top of that is. Really. Anything.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court of the "Ugly Rockpile Carved With Politicians' Faces State" didn't exactly chart new ground. Hemmed in, as they are, by Fourth Amendment decisions handed down by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, they simply followed that federal body's fine example. And what an example it is. In the past, the Eighth Circuit has said that turning tail at the sight of a roadblock is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason for getting the third degree. But in one of the cases where it made that point, the court hedged its bets, saying such behavior "is indeed suspicious, even though the suspicion engendered is insufficient for Fourth Amendment purposes."

Because not wanting to be hassled by the cops is just incomprehensible behavior in an innocent person.

And if making a u-turn is "indeed suspicious," what raises the suspicion level to search-worthy heights?

Wrote the Eighth Circuit in U.S. v. Carpenter, "Factors consistent with innocent travel, when taken together, can give rise to reasonable suspicion, even though some travelers exhibiting those factors will be innocent."

Not surprisingly, in the two Eighth Circuit cases cited above, the court ultimately upheld stops and searches. In one case, "Carpenter drove a car with Texas license plates, exited just beyond the ruse checkpoint signs, and then parked off the road for no apparent reason. These factors at least begin to raise a reasonable inference that the driver may have departed the highway without a destination in mind because he was carrying drugs and wanted to avoid the purported checkpoint."

The suspicious activity in the South Dakota case of South Dakota v. Rademaker (PDF) involved a driver making a "wide turn" to avoid the roadblock. And it was 1 a.m. Oh, and after turning on his lights and pursuing the car, the officer claimed he noticed "excessive speed." The "totality of the circumstances," says the South Dakota court, justified a stop.

So be careful out there. If you absolutely insist on turning away from a police checkpoint, whatever you do, don't display any "factors consistent with innocent travel."