Last Friday California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law California Bill AB 1047 that outlaws motorcycle only checkpoints. The law states in part:
(a) Other states have established motorcycle only checkpoints to address the growing problem of increased motorcycle fatalities.
(b) It is the intent of the Legislature to prohibit the establishment of motorcycle only checkpoints in California and that this prohibition is in no way intended to affect the establishment or conduct of other enforcement programs conducted by state or local law enforcement agencies.
The bill amends the current section of the state vehicle code (Section 2814.1) that allows “safety checkpoints.” Road blocks are still allowed in California if all vehicles are stopped.
New York Decision
The amendment to the California vehicle code is a response to a federal case in New York last year that found that motorcycle only checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The case was titled was Michael Wagner, Levi Ingersoll, Ken Fenwick and Sidney Alpaugh versus David J. Swarts et al.
The four plaintiffs were all involved in one of 17 “motorcycle safety checkpoints” conducted in the state of 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 helmet. Bikers were detained between 30 and 45 minutes each.
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 checkpoints in the New York case ignored “speed” and “alcohol;” and were conducted by officers of the New York State Police Special Investigation Unit and gang task force for the purposes of “criminal interdiction.” The checkpoints were paid for by a grant that was intended to fund “overtime for intelligence gathering and subsequent criminal and traffic enforcement resulting from this effort.”
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.” Judge Sharpe extended the doctrine to include mass stops of bikes to search for “safety violations” like loud exhausts.
In his decision, Judge Sharpe wrote, “The court concludes the checkpoints were enacted to promote motorcycle safety, a manifest public interest; they were effective in addressing this interest; and that any interference with individual liberties was not only minimal, but also grossly outweighed by the interest advanced,”
The California Bill will prevent that kind of fatuous, judicial sophistry in California.