Police in states across the U.S. have increasingly been employing new methods to search unsuspecting motorists’ vehicles. First came the DUI checkpoints, then the insurance checkpoints, and driver's license checkpoints. Now, in the Land of the Free, a growing new trend is emerging — Americans will be forced to go through “firewood” checkpoints.
The public reasoning for these checkpoints is state firewood quarantine programs, which prohibits residents of the invasive insect-infected areas, to transport untreated firewood outside that area. While these programs are meant to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer, a legitimately destructive beetle that targets ash trees, they clearly disregard constitutional guarantees against illegal search and seizure.
Ohio police have been setting up 'firewood' checkpoints to search motorists’ vehicles since 2004, with violators potentially facing fines up to $10,000 if they're caught with the banned firewood, according to the Daily Jefferson. In Michigan, police have been using 'firewood' checkpoints since at least 2005, and the list of states using them is growing.
In New Hampshire, traveling with contraband firewood could result in a fine of $250, confiscation of the wood, and misdemeanor charges for subsequent offenses, according to forest ranger Douglas Miner.
Just last week, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development announced that it would police firewood transport with roadside checkpoints over Memorial Day weekend.
In typical police checkpoint fashion, Miner said he’s legally unable to divulge the locations of the checkpoints — as that wouldn’t allow for enough revenue generating potential.
“It is a similar process to follow as when DWI checkpoints are announced,” he said. “Essentially they are usually adjacent to major roads where signage directs vehicles with firewood to pull off into designated areas for inspection. If the firewood is found to be in violation of the quarantine, it will be confiscated and either a written warning or court summons issued.”
The problem is these stops are often simply a pretext for police to engage in fishing expeditions and revenue-generating behavior.
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While the U.S. Supreme Court has held that DUI checkpoints are constitutional, without reasonable articulable suspicion of a crime being committed, police have absolutely no legal grounds to detain or arrest someone. In fact, existing case law actually requires law enforcement to have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity for police to even require someone to show their identification.
And while the checkpoint stop itself has been granted legitimacy by the Supreme Court, the fact that there is no established reasonable suspicion of criminal activity means that a person being forced to stop at the checkpoint is under no obligation to present an identification or ID themselves.
Of course, while you are well within your rights to refuse to present identification during a checkpoint stop, you would be well advised to record the interaction as law enforcement notoriously responds to a failure to obey their commands with escalation, and often violence, which can quickly turn into a dangerous situation.
Giving an indication of the current police state we are living under, the Mass PrivateI blog reports that there are now THIRTEEN different types of checkpoints being employed by law enforcement.
Thirteen police checkpoints:
- Super Bowl
- Safety Belt
- Bus Checkpoint
- Escaped Fugitive
- Pot Breathalyzer
- Drug Testing
- Firewood Checkpoint
- Boater Sobriety Checkpoint
Let’s be clear — the ‘firewood' checkpoint has very little, if anything, to do with public safety.
This ever-expanding list of checkpoints is clearly about giving law enforcement the ability to illegally search more vehicles and have contact with more innocent drivers who have done nothing wrong.
A ‘firewood’ checkpoint is simply a pretext to randomly search vehicles, and a precursor to even more intrusion by the police state, into the lives of innocent and unsuspecting Americans.