The annual motorcycle rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, is set to get underway Monday, and South Dakota law enforcement agencies have already begun their annual predatory policing spree. Each summer, as tens of thousands of bikers head for the Black Hills, the state's main east-west corridor, Interstate 90, as well as Interstate 29 running north into eastern South Dakota, become a virtual gauntlet for travelers as state Highway Patrol officers and sheriff's deputies use any number of ploys, including pretextual stops, drug dogs galore, and even fake "drug checkpoints" to bust travelers.
In a news release from the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the agency boasted that "drug busts are up so far this week," with 23 felony drug arrests and 124 misdemeanor drug arrests as of Thursday morning. During the same week last year, troopers had only scored 13 felony and 92 misdemeanor drug arrests.
Not included in that number were two university students traveling north from Vermillion Wednesday on I-29 who encountered signs on the roadside proclaiming "Drug Checkpoint Ahead." The driver left the interstate at the next exit, where he was pulled over on a pretext by a sheriff's deputy. Having viewed the Flex Your Rights video, "BUSTED: A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" (http://www.flexyourrights.org), the driver initially refused to consent to the officer's request to search the vehicle. But when the officer threatened to call in the drug dog, the driver, thinking he was clean, gave his consent. The officer found an empty baggie with three red hairs in it. The two students were charged with marijuana possession. At the jail, the arresting officers crowed to their fellow cops about getting the first bust of the day, one of the students told DRCNet.
Defensive drivers can learn some lessons from the bust above: First, any time you see a "Drug Checkpoint Ahead" sign on a highway, it is a sting. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not conduct such checkpoints for law enforcement purposes. What law enforcement agencies sometimes do is place a "checkpoint" sign on the highway, then watch for people to either throw items from their vehicles or commit traffic violations as they seek to avoid the supposed checkpoint. Then they arrest them.
Second, be aware of what is in your car! The driver in the bust above consented to the search because he thought his car was clean. Big mistake in this case. And last but certainly not least, do not waive your rights! If the driver had not consented to a search, one of two things would have happened. The officer would see that his bluff had been called and bid the travelers on their way, or the officer really would have handy access to a drug dog, the dog would search for and find the baggie, and the two would be arrested for marijuana possession. In this second case, the end result is no worse than what actually happened, and the student would have the leverage of a possible appeal because he had not waived his rights.
It's summer time, and the police are trolling and the penalties are high. Drive safe out there. Drive sober. Drive smart. And not just in South Dakota.