A federal district judge in upstate New York ruled, for all practical purposes, that because motorcycles are inherently dangerous to operate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution does not apply to bikers and that it particularly does not apply to members of motorcycle clubs.
The judge was the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe and the case was Michael Wagner, Levi Ingersoll, Ken Fenwick and Sidney Alpaugh versus David J. Swarts et al.
The Fourth Amendment, states “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.”
Over the centuries, an “unreasonable search” has generally become understood to mean a search or seizure conducted without the “individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.” A giant exception to this definition of “unreasonable” is something called the “special needs” doctrine. This doctrine allows, for example, “sobriety checkpoints.” Last week Judge Sharpe extended the doctrine to include mass stops of bikes to search for “safety violations” like too loud pipes and helmets that have not been approved by the Department of Transportation.
The rationale behind the dragnets was called the “Statewide Motorcycle Enforcement and Education Initiative.” Its stated goal was to address the “alarming increase in motorcycle crashes . . . over the past decade,” and the escalating “number of motorcycles traveling New York’s roadways.” This safety effort was largely implemented by cops dressed in riot gear.
The plaintiffs in the case were all involved in one of 17 “motorcycle safety checkpoints” conducted in New York in 2008. All of the checkpoints were constructed on roads leading to or from large motorcycle rallies. A total of 1,064 tickets were issued. Nine hundred and sixty-five of the tickets were either for non-safety offenses or for wearing the wrong kind of plastic hat. Bikers were detained between 30 and 45 minutes each. Patch holders got extra special attention by “gang intelligence” officers. The police presence at each checkpoint was extensive and included Swat. Only motorcycles were stopped. Cars were waved on.
The bikers and their attorney, a well known motorcycle rights lawyer in New York named Mitchell Proner, argued that “the severity of the checkpoints’ interference with the personal liberty of motorcyclists far outweighs the degree to which the seizure actually serves the public interest in reducing motorcycle accidents and fatalities.”
Proner also argued that the checkpoints ignored “speed” and “alcohol;” that the checkpoints always included officers of the New York State Police Special Investigation Unit and gang task force for the purposes of “criminal interdiction;” and that the checkpoints were funded by a grant that was intended to fund “overtime for intelligence gathering and subsequent criminal and traffic enforcement resulting from this effort.”
Last week Judge Sharpe ruled that there is no arguing with the police as long as they say they are stopping you to protect you from yourself.