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Sent: Sunday, April 08, 2001 1:58
Subject: Surrendering Freedom For
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UTAH'S CHECKPOINT ALPHA
Daniel B. Newby
On July 2, 2000, a couple days before the anniversary
of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, my family drove
up Big Cottonwood Canyon to enjoy the mountain air. Not far up the
canyon, signs appeared warning us to prepare to stop and be
searched, and that search dogs were in use. In stubborn fashion, I
promptly made a U-turn and headed back the way I had come.
unmarked police vehicle soon pulled out behind our car and followed
us down to the mouth of the canyon. There police lights flashed and we
were pulled over. An officer in civilian clothes approached our car,
asked to see my driver's license and inquired as to why I had avoided the
search. In as rational and calm terms as possible, I reminded the officer
of the recent Utah Supreme Court decision against such random searches
and explained that I did not want to have any part in it.
officer immediately became defensive. He justified the checkpoint by the
number of drugs taken off the street and the safety that was being assured for
people like me. I responded that it was very concerning to me that Americans
would prefer this type of security over the risks associated with
The officer explained the difficult situation the police are
in: people go up the canyons, do drugs, and kill somebody on the way
down, and then everyone demands to know why the police didn't do something to
stop it. I
could empathize with his predicament, but still did not agree
with the supposed remedy.
After some back and forth, the officer walked
away from our car and held a discussion with another officer. Upon his
return, I was given a warning ticket for making an unsafe U-turn (the officer
specified that my violation was not regarding the drug search, which I
presume was to avoid any legal action on my part).
As we concluded our
debate on whether freedom was more important than
efficiency in fighting
crime, I learned that we had both served in the military and had law
enforcement experience. In fact, he had served in my birth nation of
Germany, and my father had served as a police officer in Utah.
As human beings we parted on
friendly enough terms, but as Americans we parted with the strongest of
ideological differences. As a native of Germany, I had relatives on both
sides of the Iron Curtain and also frequented Berlin as a child, passing
via train or car between the walls and watchtowers. I vividly
remembered the searches, the soldiers with their weapons at the
ready, and the intimidation. I remembered Checkpoint Alpha in Helmstedt, where
Americans were briefed and prepared for the suffocating ordeal of passage.
Those memories made each return to, and moment in, America all the more
refreshing and wonderful.
.... As I started my car again, visions of
East German checkpoints flew through my head and I wondered to myself,
"Has Utah really changed this much? Have we become so dependent on
security that we no longer value freedom?"
If traffic checkpoints
represent an acceptable loss of freedom today, what will be acceptable
tomorrow? If a few fundamental rights can be rationalized away to stop
the bad guys today, what additional rights will be disregarded
In the February 4, 2000, Utah Supreme Court case I cited,
then-Associate Chief Justice Christine Durnham poignantly argued
"Broad-based, suspicionless inquiries are reminiscent of the much
hated and feared general warrants issued by the British Crown in colonial
days, where British officers were given blanket authority to search
wherever they pleased and for whatever might pique their interest. It was
precisely this type of activity that the Fourth Amendment was designed to
prohibit. Indeed, the use of general warrants was an important factor
giving rise to the American Revolution. This state's early settlers were
themselves no strangers to the abuses of general warrants ... A free society
cannot tolerate such a practice."
These eloquent words fell on
deaf ears in Utah's law enforcement community. Exactly one month to
the day of this Supreme Court decision, the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP)
operated another dragnet traffic checkpoint between Salina and Sigurd in
Sevier County in blatant violation of the Supreme Court's decision. The
UHP officer in charge even ordered reporters to leave the search
area, stating, "No media is welcome here ... This is for troopers and
officers only. This is a work area; we don't necessarily want anybody
Dragnet traffic checkpoints continue unabated in
Two hundred years ago, American sage Benjamin Franklin
growing dilemma: "They that can give up essential liberty
to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Utah should not disregard the warnings of Franklin or those who have
tasted what it means to pass through Checkpoint Alpha.
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Accountability Initiative Law)
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