With the assistance of local police officers, a private firm conducting research on drugged driving forced Pennsylvania motorists off the road and demanded they submit to cheek swabs and DNA testing without cause.
The incident in question occurred last Friday, and it left many motorists feeling violated and questioning their fourth amendment rights.
“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,” said resident Ricardo Nieves, who was stopped by the agents. “A federal survey with local police help violates my rights.”
The checkpoint was carried out by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which had been hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to determine how many individuals were operating a vehicle under the influence of prescription drugs. The private firm said the checkpoint was voluntary, but Nieves said he had to refuse several times before being let go, and he felt pressure to acquiesce because local police officers were also present.
Criminal Defense Attorney Melvin Welch said the incident clearly showcased an abuse of power.
“I am appalled by the clear abuse of power in this case,” said Welch. “We have a state agency carrying out the dirty work of the federal government under the guise of research – which they feel is enough of a reason to stop ordinary citizens without cause and forcefully demand they submit to a seizure of their DNA – all while using real police officers and flashing lights to add authentication to their intimidation tactics.”
Nieves said he felt uneasy when he noticed real officers were stationed at the checkpoint, and he added that it gave the stop an air of authority it would not have otherwise had.
Reading Police Chief William Heim disagreed with Nieves’ perspective, saying the police officers were only providing security for the checkpoint.
“People are not pressured by police presence to do something they don’t want to,” said Heim. “In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s a pretty innocuous and minor issue.”
Welch said the infringement of rights is not a ‘minor’ issue.
“We have a Constitution built specifically to protect citizens from the authoritarian nature of the government, yet those in power continually bend or break those protections under the veil that what they are doing is for the ‘greater good’ of society,” said Welch. “I’ve referenced it before in the case of the stop-and-frisk laws in New York, but Ben Franklin said it best – ‘Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.’ Citizens should not take these illegal checkpoints lightly.”
Related source: Reading Eagle