As we reported last month, random drivers in Fort Worth, Texas were asked for breath, saliva, and blood samples by police officers. The drivers were stopped and asked for such samples even though they violated no traffic laws.
The stops were done in the name of “government research,” to figure out how many people were driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claimed the study was “voluntary,” but many of the individuals who were pulled over told NBC News that they felt forced to give over samples.
The checkpoints are operated by armed cops, most of whom do not tell drivers that the tests are voluntary. It is easy to surmise, then, that many drivers feel pressured to give over samples or simply assume that they are mandatory.
Attorney Rory Ellinger pointed out, “To the average person, all the authority and prosecutorial demeanor of an officer directing you to pull over amounts to an order, not a voluntary act.”
Kim Cope of Fort Worth, Texas, was one of the individuals pulled over. She claims that although officials did not explicitly force her to park and give a Breathalyzer, she felt as though she had no choice. She said, “I gestured to the guy in front that I just wanted to go straight, but he wouldn’t let me and forced me into a parking spot.”
St. Charles County, Missouri, Sheriff Tom Neer said his department had been “duped” into cooperating with the government subcontractor conducting the study. He said, “We will not cooperate with one of these federal checkpoints again. And we would not have contracted with the subcontractor on this one if we had known in advance that our officers would be asked to flag down motorists. In essence, we got duped, and shame on me.”
Neer claimed that the federal subcontractor involved with the study, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, did not inform his department that officers would be involved in the checkpoints.
The NHTSA responded to Neer’s comments by claiming that such surveys have been conducted around the country for the past 40 years.
Many find the surveys distasteful and some have questioned if they are even constitutional.
Civil liberty attorney Frank Colosi said, “You can’t just be pulled over randomly or for no reason. They’re essentially lying to you when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing you at that moment.”
Even if the checkpoints are not technically unconstitutional, some find it disturbing that such practices are arguably becoming acceptable norms in our society.