Texas DPS announced this past weekend that they have begun routine checkpoints on highways to screen vehicles entering Texas from Louisiana as part of the public safety effort against the COVID-19 outbreak. All drivers stopped at these checkpoints coming from Louisiana will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering Texas. They will also be required to complete documentation providing details about where they will be quarantining so that DPS can check on them to make sure they are complying with Governor Greg Abbott’s self-quarantine order. Failure to stop at a checkpoint and failure to comply with the self-quarantine order are both punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
“But wait,” you may ask…“is that even legal?” The answer is Yes. Roadway checkpoints usually arise in the context of Driving While Intoxicated cases where individuals are detained by the police simply for driving in a certain location to check and make sure they’re not intoxicated. That means individuals can be stopped even if the police didn’t observe them breaking any traffic laws. Most states in the country allow law enforcement to perform random roadside checkpoints as long as the location, time and date of the checkpoint are publicly released ahead of time.
Texas is one of the states that does not allow random roadway checkpoints for Driving While Intoxicated. In Texas, law enforcement has to have “reasonable suspicion” (based on specific facts) that a driver has or is committing a crime before they can stop and detain them. However, it’s important to remember the difference between a stop/search because of suspected criminal activity and a stop/search for noncriminal reasons – like a public health emergency.
For example, when the county health department official arrives at a restaurant to inspect the premises and make sure food is being properly stored and the facility is clean, they typically don’t have a warrant with them. When TSA checks your baggage before you board a plane at the airport, they don’t need probable cause to do so. And, when you’re stopped at a border patrol station after coming back from a week of partying in Mexico over spring break, border patrol agents don’t have to have “articulable facts” to support detaining you and searching every inch of your car.
The US Supreme Court has held that there are numerous exceptions to the 4th Amendment requirement that the government have reasonable suspicion/probable cause to search and seize individuals and their property. These exceptions are when noncriminal matters are involved – such as the government’s interest in air traffic safety, border security, and yes, public health. If you’re truly bored, feel free to read through Texas Government Code Section 418 for a list of the broad authority given to the governor during public emergencies.
What this means for drivers in Texas – at least for drivers heading west from Louisiana – is that if you see a roadblock, you’ll be stopped, detained and questioned. Make sure you have current insurance on your car, a valid driver’s license and nothing illegal in your car. Just because law enforcement has stopped you for a public health (noncriminal reason) doesn’t mean the matter can’t escalate to a criminal charge if the police discover evidence of a crime during the detention/search/seizure.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for a crime, you need an aggressive and experienced criminal defense team working for you to make sure that your arrest does not become a conviction.
Call the attorneys at Hamilton Grant today to make sure your rights are protected.