Tennessee Supreme Court Overturns ID Roadblocks

Tennessee Supreme Court finds an ID roadblock illegal because it was used
to issue traffic tickets in the name of safety.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously found the use of
roadblocks to check identification papers, driving licenses and
automobile registrations to be unconstitutional. The court struck down a
Chattanooga Housing Authority (CHA) “residency” checkpoint at Poss Homes
on 2409 Washington Street. The authority, which has its own police force,
claimed the stops would protect residents from crime and illicit drug use
by turning away non-residents.

CHA Police Officer Ralph Brown had stopped Jerry W. Hayes, Jr. at
6:30pm on August 13, 2002, asking him if he was a resident and if he had
his papers. Hayes produces his driver’s license which had been suspended
because of an overdue fine. Brown also noticed unopened bottles of beer
in the car and charged Hayes with possession of alcohol because, at the
time, Hayes was just two months short of twenty-one.

The high court overturned Hayes’ conviction because it did not
believe, contrary to police claims, that the primary purpose of the
checkpoint was safety. The evidence showed the roadblocks were successful
instead at issuing expensive tickets.

“There are elements of subterfuge evident in the operation of this
entry identification checkpoint,” the court wrote. “If the checkpoint was
being operated solely to establish a legitimate connection between the
would-be entrant and the community, however, Officer Brown had no reason
to ‘also’ demand the person’s driver’s license if he or she had already
produced a Poss Homes identification badge… Because persons may
legitimately drive vehicles belonging to others, however, a vehicle
registration document is of questionable value in determining the
identity of the driver. Proof of insurance is relevant to nothing other
than determining compliance with the provisions of Tennessee Code
Annotated chapter twelve.”

The court saw no evidence that the checkpoint increased the safety of
residents, nor that the crime was solely being conducted by “outsiders.”
Because the police had no list of residents or guests, there was no real
way to tell from a driver’s license whether any stopped individual
belonged in the complex or not.

“In their zeal to preserve and protect, however, our police officers
must respect the fundamental constitutional rights of those they are
sworn to serve,” the court concluded. “Entry identification checkpoints
of the type used here result in the abrogation of one of those
fundamental constitutional rights. Such checkpoints cannot, therefore, be
countenanced, no matter how lofty their goals. The ends, in this case,
simply do not justify the means.”

Source: Tennessee v. Hayes (Supreme Court of Tennessee, 4/20/2006)

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