LANSING, Mich. (Dec. 15, 2015) – A Michigan bill that would nullify in practice certain federal “voluntary” checkpoints in the state continues to move through the legislative process.

Rep. Jim Runestad (R-44) introduced House Bill 4870 (HB4870) on Sept. 16. The legislation would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies and personnel from participating in, lending assistance to, or being present in any official capacity at a voluntary motor vehicle checkpoint or stop conducted by a private company or research group to collect human samples from consenting drivers who are stopped at the checkpoint for research or statistical purposes.

The bill stipulates that the prohibition applies even if the federal government funds the checkpoint or if it operates under contract from a federal agency.

The Committee on Criminal Justice passed HB4870 on Nov. 10 by an 8-0 vote.

Practically speaking, this legislation would block roadblocks set up as part of a multimillion dollar federal study run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation based in Maryland operates the checkpoints, run by uniformed officers. Officers offer motorists cash for DNA samples, generally $10 for a cheek-swab and $50 for blood. Officers reportedly up the ante for motorists who refuse, offering $100.

The issue of such checkpoints gained national attention in the fall of 2013 when the Fort Worth, Texas, police department set up roadblocks for a checkpoint on behalf of the NHTSA. Daily Tech reported:

The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) installed the roadblock north of the city during daytime traffic.  They flagged down some motorists at random and asked them to give breath, saliva, and blood samples.  The FWPD claims the effort was ‘100 percent voluntary’ and anonymous.

It acknowledges that most of the drivers had broken no law, but it said the effort was valuable to federal contractors working to complete a 3 year, $7.9M USD survey on behalf of the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aimed a collecting medical data for use in combatting drunk driving.

But some of the motorists who submitted samples are outraged saying that the program infringed on their Constitutional rights and that the FWPD’s ‘please’ did not make it clear that the seizure of medical samples was ‘voluntary.’

Police State USA reports that the checkpoints intimidate and bribe drivers and don’t really count as “voluntary.”

“They’re essentially lying to you when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing you at that moment,” Colosi said.

Missouri State Rep. Rory Ellinger said the checkpoints were intimidating and unnecessary. “To the average person, all the authority and prosecutorial demeanor of an officer directing you to pull over amounts to an order, not a voluntary act,” said Ellinger, an attorney representing the University City, MO, area.

Going beyond the payment, pressure and appearance of an official requirement, Ft Worth police were still carrying out one part of the tests even on those who refused to participate. From TechDirt:

Worse yet is the fact that even if you opted out of everything including the unpaid breathalyzer test, the Ft. Worth police department was still performing one check without securing permission from any drivers.

Apparently on the consent form that officers gave “voluntary” participants, fine print informed the driver that [the police had taken] “passive alcohol sensor readings before the consent process has been completed.”

It’s unclear whether drivers could ask for that data to be deleted if they didn’t want it to be collected, but what is clear is that most drivers did not notice the fine print or were unable to read it. As a result what the FWPD claimed was a ‘voluntary’ scientific study became what appears to be an involuntary search of citizens who were breaking no law. The NHTSA defended these non-stops by stating everything was ‘voluntary’ and that law enforcement officers were only on hand for ‘safety’ reasons. But the passive alcohol test wasn’t voluntary. And the officers never bothered to point out stopping was voluntary until after the test subjects had actually stopped.

Another concern revolves around where collected DNA information could ultimately end up. With the federal government aggressively growing biometric databases, no guarantee exists that information gathered at these checkpoints wouldn’t end up in some type of permanent databases. Even if officials kept the data anonymous, there is no way to stop the federal government from matching collected data with existing data down the road.

The federal government lacks constitutional authority to fund or run such a study, and there is no legal or constitutional requirement for state or local law enforcement to help the federal government carry it out. This bill would nullify the effort in Michigan.

The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary for further consideration.


If you live in Michigan, contact members of the House Committee on Judiciary and politely but firmly ask them to pass HB4870. You can find contact information HERE.

Mike Maharrey

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