Search and Seizure

TN Court Approves Roadblocks To Check Papers

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Stopping motorists who have done nothing wrong to ask for their papers is perfectly legal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last week. The three-judge panel decided simple statistics overcame the constitutional challenge mounted by Johnny E. Monk, whose stop at a roadblock led to a four-year prison sentence because his papers were not in order.

On August 28, 2009, Monk was headed home, while towing a disabled vehicle, as he passed through Sullivan County on State Road 44 in a 1990 Chevy pickup truck. When he came up to the intersection of Possum Creek and Old River Pike, however, he was stopped by a driver's license checkpoint that had been set up by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Monk had no license or proof of insurance because his license had been suspended for a previous drunk driving offense. Trooper Robert Johnson admitted on the stand that Monk had not been driving erratically.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits warrantless searches of a person without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, but the courts have authorized roadblocks under what California DUI Attorney Lawrence Taylor calls the "DUI exception to the Constitution."