The National Safety Council says the Fourth of July is the most dangerous holiday of the year on the roads, which means law enforcement will be out in full force on both sides of the river.
Here in Richmond County, Operation Thunder has ended, but that doesn't mean traffic checkpoints have stopped. Local law enforcement will be out this week looking for speeders and drunk drivers, so if you come to a checkpoint, we want to make sure you know your rights.
According to the Supreme Courts of Georgia and The United States, police checkpoints are legal if they are done to ensure roadway safety. You are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures at checkpoints, however, that can change if an officer has probable cause.
"Probable cause. They smell marijuana, a dog has alerted on the vehicle, they see drugs, they see evidence of a criminal activity. That is all probable cause," says Lt. Lewis Blanchard with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.
Even if you haven't broken the law during a traffic checkpoint, Blanchard says an officer can ask you to get out of your car.
"The supreme court and the state of Georgia Court have already ruled that an officer has the right to ask you out of your vehicle. He doesn't even have to give you a reason. He does not have to answer your questions if they have probable cause to stop you. You can be asked out of your vehicle," says Blanchard.
Although there is no law that states you have to roll down your window all the way, Blanchard says for safety reasons, an officer can also request that.
"So therefore, simply rolling down a window, that is a lesser intrusion than asking you out of your vehicle and yes, you do have to follow those requests," says Blanchard.
As Augustan Rocky Eades learned several weeks ago, you can also be pulled over for performing a U-turn before a roadblock.
"You are not breaking the law by avoiding a road check, but you have given the officer probable cause to stop you because you have created a suspicious act in front of the law enforcement officers. That gives them the right to stop you. And you've actually reduced your rights, compared to if you had proceeded through the road check," says Blanchard.
Blanchard says the best thing to do is to just continue through the road check with your driver's license and registration ready. And he says the law states you don't have to speak a word during the checkpoint.
"You don't have to legally answer an officers questions. That doesn't make sense in most cases because if you cooperate you're going to get out of there a lot quicker. Most people stop at a road check less than they stop at a traffic light," says Blanchard.
Blanchard says that if you don't comply with the lawful requests of an officer, you can be arrested and charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
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