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Issues, Kansas

Checking Checkpoints

There’s been a lot of attention focused on police authority lately. In these cases, it’s for very good reason. But it’s always good to understand your rights regardless of the extent of the situation. Take, for instance, something that happened back in December in south-central Kansas. It seems simple. It seems harmless. And it seems like it’s for a good reason. Agents of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism and Kansas Highway Patrol conducted a checkpoint to address illegal hunting that’s been taking place in the region.

So, why am I talking about it? Well, the issue of DUI checkpoints, for instance, has been challenged for years under the idea that it’s an unconstitutional search. The Supreme Court disagrees with that premise.

“In sum, the balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist; Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz

But, here’s the thing – that dealt specifically with DUI checkpoints, and the rationale used made it clear that the reason it was legal was because of the prevailing state interest in protecting the public from drunk drivers. What our HiPo and Department of Wildlife did, while good intentioned, most certainly does not meet that standard of public interest. Illegal hunting might be a problem in the area, but is it a problem that creates substantial risk to public safety?

The answer is easy: no, it does not.

The usage of the checkpoint is just a shortcut for law enforcement to allow them to “go fishing” for violations in lieu of actual investigative work. Kansas game warden Greg Salisbury said it best:

“Probably trespassing is one of our most common violations and then followed by not having the proper permits.” Greg Salisbury; Kansas Game Warden

You’re not going to catch trespassers with a checkpoint. Missing permits doesn’t threaten anyone on the road. In this particular case, it’s quite easy to make the argument that this tactic is an unconstitutional search on behalf of the state. The best thing you can do is show your ID, and refuse to answer any other questions. Defending your rights at a checkpoint can be intimidating and inconvenient, but it’s an act of necessary vigilance that we as citizens need to exercise.

Likewise, it’s important to know why we shouldn’t just allow this kind of behavior to go unnoticed. We’re afforded protections from police action for a reason. It’s supposed to be hard for the police to do their job, even if the reason seems silly. At the end of the day, it’s about putting the brakes on the slippery slope. That’s our responsibility, not theirs. Over time, if they had their way they would widen that net step by step, until you’re getting checked somewhere for something everyday. Fines and tickets are revenue for them, they have financial incentive to take your rights away. But only if we let them.

Still, if you’re a hunter, don’t be a dick. Don’t mistake my distrust of the checkpoint system as an excuse to ignore all the rules. Know where it’s legal for you to hunt, know what can be hunted when, and make sure your tags and permits are in order.

(Photo Credit: CC by-sa 2.0 versageek)