In several US states, motorcyclists have claimed and sued their governments, claiming that their constitutional rights are violated during police or troopers highway checkpoints. Their argument is that these checkpoints unfairly and unconstitutionally are systematically targeting bikers under suspicion of wrongdoing. If checkpoints from “a general interest in crime control” without suspicion always amount to unconstitutional seizures, such initiatives to control bikers coinciding with or during motorcycle rallies are defended by police as safety measures.
On Thursday, in a case followed nationwide, 4 bikers sued New York State troopers under the argument that the State checkpoints were a mere pretext to look for criminals and that it is de facto an intrusive and unfair practice assimilating all bikers as potential criminals. This week, Judge Gary Sharpe has rejected motorcyclists’ claims under the ruling that these checkpoints followed by the issuance of many tickets were were enacted to promote motorcycle safety, a manifest of public interest.
Judge Sharpe’s ruling states that “5,342 vehicles passed through 17 checkpoints in 2008. Authorities inspected 2,278 and made four criminal arrests in addition to issuing 1,064 tickets, including 365 for helmet violations, 99 for other safety violations, and 600 for non-safety violations. The ruling cited state data showing an increase in motorcycle fatalities the preceding nine years, and an increase in tickets issued for illegal helmets from 35 in 2007 to 796 in 2008, almost half at the checkpoints” He also founded his decision based on a 17 percent decrease in motorcycle fatalities from 2008 to 2009. Lt. James Halvorsen, detail commander of the state police motorcycle unit, said that during the ongoing checkpoints program most riders with approved helmets are waved through the checkpoints, where they slow but don’t stop.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Mitchell Proner will appeal and declared that “It’s obvious just from their own internal documents that police is looking for criminal activity,” As example he mentioned a checkpoint near Buffalo’s Peace Bridge including border patrol agents, and one in central New York near a rally sponsored by a motorcycle club including gang task force officers. He said “The fact they didn’t find crime doesn’t mean that wasn’t what they’re fishing for and that he just shows you’ve got law abiding citizens on motorcycles primarily being inconvenienced.”