Motorcycle riders across the country are anxiously awaiting a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York which they hope will declare New York’s “motorcycle only” roadblocks to be unconstitutional. The so-called “safety checkpoints”, which target well-known motorcycle events, force motorcyclists to leave the roadway, regardless of any wrongdoing, and have their persons and property inspected for equipment violations, proper paperwork, DUI and stolen VIN numbers. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now providing Federal funding for law enforcement to conduct such motorcycle-only checkpoints nationwide despite objections raised by members of Congress and legal challenges from the biker community.
The New York lawsuit is the first to challenge the constitutionality of motorcycle checkpoints. The plaintiffs are being represented by Proner & Proner, led by N.Y. Aid to Injured Motorcyclists (A.I.M.) Attorney Mitch Proner, a motorcycle-riding lawyer who has a long history of doing “pro bono” (free) legal work to protect the rights of motorcyclists. The Proner law firm commenced the lawsuit on behalf of four motorcyclists who were detained at two separate checkpoints, as well as representing the interests of ABATE of New York and the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (NCOM).
The checkpoints in question are funded by a grant from the New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and the troopers who work them are paid overtime. Although the stated purpose of the checkpoints is to promote safety, the majority of the more than a thousand tickets which were issued during the first year of the checkpoints had nothing to do with safety and instead focused on non-safety violations such as loud pipes. The written guidelines for the checkpoints specifically state that one of the purposes of the checkpoints is to look for stolen and forged VINs and the police readily admit that they often have undercover members of their gang and auto theft units working the checkpoints looking for signs of criminal activity.
According to Proner, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly made it clear that any roadway checkpoint whose primary purpose is general crime control constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and is presumptively unconstitutional. Notwithstanding that fact, the progress reports which the police prepared on the checkpoints specifically state that the grant funds are used “for overtime for intelligence gathering and the subsequent criminal and traffic enforcement.” The police admit that the checkpoints, which focus only on equipment violations and forged and stolen VINs, do not address any of the major causes of motorcycle accidents such as reckless driving, driver inattentiveness and alcohol impairment.