Troopers violate court ‘notice’ rule in city roadblock

A Tennessee Highway Patrol officer leans on the doorjamb of his cruiser, his agency running roadblocks in Chattanooga the day before St. Patrick’s Day and also March 23. (Photo

The Tennessee highway patrol is conducting a roadblock in Chattanooga Friday at East Brainerd Road at Morris Hill. But the department is refusing to obey a court ruling that requires published notice of the roadblock to reduce the “severity of the interference with personal liberty and privacy,” to use language from a 2001 supreme court opinion.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

The department of safety and homeland security did not put an ad in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, says Jim Stevens, the legal advertising rep; nor did it put an ad or a notice in the March 9 edition of the Hamilton County Herald, a weekly that publishes every Friday, says ad rep Diana Chambers in Nashville.

The new sobriety checkpoint is noted on the department of safety website pursuant to a rule by the Tennessee supreme court. Supreme Court’s directive is to reveal to travelers and motorists the details of the blockade. The operation of roadblocks imposing warrantless, suspicious seizures upon users of the highway in Tennessee is not under law, but under court opinion.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Bill Miller says that the department is not required to be specific about the roadblock, particularly as to the time of the Friday blockade. A graphic on its website does not give the time of the roadblock, so that Tennesseans might dodge it to avoid what State v. Hicks, 2001, calls “arbitrary intrusion into the personal liberty and privacy” of travelers.

The agency is allowed by the supreme court to impose unconstitutional searches and seizures upon the people of Tennessee. The court allows the offense against the liberties of the people on the grounds of compelling state interest, and imposes rules in the Downy and Hicks opinions, one of which originated in Chattanooga, to minimize the surprise and fright to the people and their liberties.

The court opines that it does not want people to be caught by surprise at a roadblock. It requires publicity primarily for its deterrent effect, but implicitly also so that people who wish to avoid their rights being tread upon to have to go through the blockade. On directive requires cops to allow an escape turn prior to the stop.

Therefore it orders state government to use notorious publication (“publicity in the media,” in State v. Downey, 1997). But in practice the department of safety does not give enough detail for a person so notified to be able to avoid the roadblock.

“Best reason for us as to why there is not a time is what works best for us,” Lt. Miller says. “That’s the court’s decision, not our decision. We are not leaving anything out. But people understand to know that on that date, March 16, in those two counties on those two roads, there are sobriety checkpoints going to be conducted some time that day, so there are going to be people thinking that, if they travel that roadway, they are not going to be drinking at any time at all that day and traveling on that roadway during that day.”

Lt.  Miller says the court requires publication not so that people can avoid them, but that they will be able to pass through the blockade either sober or with their driver licenses in hand.

What about people who don’t want to go through the checkpoint at all because it is an invasion of their rights to travel?

“We’re going to stop right there,” Lt. Miller chides. “This is constitutional. The checkpoints are constitutional. This is not imposing on anyone’s rights. Driving is a privilege, it is not a right. So what we are doing is guided by the supreme court of the United States of America. And this is nothing to do with the Tennessee highway patrol. ***. So, therefore I will not get into a debate what is constitutional.”

Lt. Miller and commissioner David Purkey of the department of safety and homeland security appear to be  playing lightly with their judicial orders.

Ruling in Suck Creek case ropes in roadblocks

The Hicks ruling makes clear that publication with details about a roadblock is essential to maintaining liberty and “thereby diminishing the possibility of surprise, concern, or fright” and an unnecessary imposition upon people on the roadway halted “without even a modicum of suspicion of unlawful conduct.” In other words, to spare even the soberest and most careful user of the road an encounter with a roadblock that is causeless and warrantless as against him, the court requires notorious and useful publication.

‘Advanced publicity’

For roadblocks to be constitutional, they must “[provide] advanced publicity of the roadblock to the public at large, separate from, and in addition to, any notice warnings given to approaching motorists. Although the absence of any one of these factors does not necessarily invalidate a roadblock, they each weigh heavily in determining the overall reasonableness of the checkpoint. ***  Although the failure to detect any unlicensed drivers could be theoretically attributable to the deterrence provided by the roadblock, we seriously doubt that such was the case here because no advanced publicity of the roadblock was given to the public at large. ***

“[B]efore motorists can be reasonably deterred by roadblocks, they must first be aware that they are likely to encounter such roadblocks, and advanced publicity is one key to ensuring this awareness.  *** Therefore, so long as the State chooses to rely on deterrence as a rationale supporting any roadblock, we reiterate that advance publicity of the roadblock may be essential, and in those cases where this factor is absent, the State’s ability to rely upon deterrence to justify the stops is correspondingly diminished.

For the THP to give no time and no location — as it regularly refuses to do — is as worthless has announcing a lecture and saying it’s on McCallie Avenue on a Saturday, or announcing a legislative assembly public gab session on Monday on Broad Street. No one can act upon this information apart from the essential detail, either the address or the time.

Without complete details, the roadblock is not avoidable to people who of necessity need to use a particular road.

Drivers, operators targeted

The patrol will be conducting “line patrols” on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, saturation patrols “aggressively looking for drivers driving under the influence.” Violations of “light law” (tag light out) will be probable cause for a stop.

“If you are violating the law, whether it be from a light being out on your vehicle or tail light being out, you should probably expect to be stopped. If your vehicle is not completely operable by what the federal guidelines are for that vehicle, and also state rules and regulations are for that vehicle,, you may be stopped. If you are speeding, if you’re driving distracted, if you’re not wearing your seatbelt, crossing the center line, if you are erratically driving or doing anything that is not for the safe operation of that vehicle, you’re very likely going to stopped somewhere in the state.”

Among municipalities that run roadblocks, Soddy-Daisy is one that grants its officers the authority to handle them, but with scrupulous attention to these policies.

The next scheduled roadblock in the Chattanooga area is set for March 23rd at Sequoyah access road and a Highway 27 overpass in Soddy-Daisy. That block will be for seat belt use.

Lt. Miller said he does not know anything about “transportation administrative notice,” and that if he’s read it it might have been under some other name or heading.

City weighs ‘fright’ factor in use of unmarked cop cars to stop women in traffic

‘Fiddle man’ vows appeal after jury rejects constitutional protections

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.