There are some truths in life that are self-evident: the sky is blue, water is wet, and motorcycle enthusiasts are a social bunch. Bikers love riding together, partying together and nowhere is this more pronounced than at motorcycle rallies. Some rallies (like the annual one in Sturgis, SD or the Daytona Bike Week in Florida) have become legendary and taken on international fame. However, their fame has come at a price. Consequently, they have popped onto the radar screens of certain law enforcement agencies across the country.
An interesting event happened in the South over the last couple years. State law enforcement in Georgia received a grant from the federal government to conduct motorcycle-only roadblocks on the major highways heading to Florida. This obviously affects bikers all over the south heading to large events as in the past, the roadblocks happened during the first week of March which (surprise, surprise!) corresponded with the Daytona, Florida bike week. The inspectors were apparently searching motorcycles and motorcyclists for mandatory safety and non-safety equipment as well as stolen VIN numbers. The typical motorist passing by one of the checkpoints would have observed a scene that looked like something from a major crime bust: 17 Georgia State Patrol cars, 2 county sheriff’s deputy vehicles, one official vehicle from the Department of Transportation, a helicopter, and a mobile video-/photographic unit that recorded each and every biker passing through the checkpoint. While the outrage among bikers is understandable, it did not get to the heart of the issue behind law enforcement’s flexing of its arm: were the roadblocks constitutionally permissible? Does a biker passing through this roadblock have to consent to the search and, if he or she ends up in legal trouble from the stop, can the biker beat the charge because of a bad stop? The question lies as to whether a stop falls under a citizens fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
Most states, utilizes a five part test to determine a roadblock’s reasonability. Out of those five standards, at least two are clearly outside the scope of what a layman biker should consider when thinking about the reasonability of the stop. These two factors are best evaluated by attorneys and the information they obtain through discovery from the prosecution. However, focusing on the three remaining factors may be invaluable because they may greatly help the biker in the event criminal action is taken against him or her.
The first layman’s factor to think about is whether or not the delay at the roadblock is minimal. The second layman’s factor bikers should consider is whether the roadblock operation is well-marked as a police operation. The factors which will determine if it is well marked may include if signs, roadway cones, and officers wearing displayed vests, police cars with flashing lights and/or if large signs stating a checkpoint is ahead are visibly placed.
The final factor a biker should pay attention to is if all motorcyclists who are utilizing a specific roadway are stopped at the roadblock. For the roadblock to be valid, each and every motorcyclist on a given thoroughfare should be stopped at a motorcycle checkpoint.
To conclude, bikers should be aware that motorcycle-only roadblocks are permissible. If a biker is on a highway where one is established, he or she cannot simply drive past it thinking that it is unconstitutional. However, the motorcyclist should pay attention to important details about the roadblock – was it well-marked, or did it pop up out of nowhere? How long did the biker get delayed at the roadblock? How long did officers take to conduct their safety search of the individual biker? Making mental notes of these important details will not likely get you out of trouble at the roadblock itself, but they may greatly help your defense in the event some criminal sanction is taken against you for the results of that roadblock search.
Finally, remember that if the search at the roadblock begins to go horribly bad for whatever reason, you have other constitutional rights you can invoke. Remember, always be police, but also be firm. You are allowed to ask questions about what is going on and whether you are being detained. If an officer seeks to search your person or the bags on your motorcycle, NEVER consent to the search. If the officer says you are being detained, find out why and make sure the officer cites the specific charge. At that point you have the right to remain silent and request an attorney, and you should probably exercise them. You have rights when confronted by law enforcement. Make sure you use them.