On a desolate, desert highway in Southern Arizona, Terry Bressi pulls up to a Border Patrol checkpoint where he is asked to reveal his citizenship status.
He instead asks the Border Patrol agent if he is being detained, so she orders him to pull over to the side of the road for further questioning.
But he continues to ask if he is being detained because otherwise, he tells her, he would like to be on his way.
They go back and forth for more than two minutes as he records the entire exchange on a video camera (to her credit, she doesn’t try to order him to stop filming).
After walking behind his truck to check out his license plate, she finally tells him he is free to go.
This incident occurred in January 2008 and is only one of several videos on Bressi’s Youtube account, which is appropriately titled CheckPointUSA.
In December 2002, he was not so lucky. He was dragged out of his vehicle and laid face down on the pavement where he was handcuffed and arrested for refusing to hand over his driver license and for refusing a lawful order.
Unfortunately, he did not record that incident on video.
Nevertheless, his case was dropped a year later but the ensuing civil suit he filed has not yet been settled.
And according to Bressi’s website, he should have no problem winning the suit because the Supreme Court has ruled that police checkpoints are unconstitutional.
For those unfamiliar with my use of the term seizure in this context, the Supreme Court has ruled that a 4th Amendment seizure occurs whenever an individual is stopped at a checkpoint:
“The Fourth Amendment applies to all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest.”
U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce
“It is agreed that checkpoint stops are ‘seizures’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”
U.S. v Martinez-Fuerte
“The Court assumes, and I certainly agree, that persons stopped at fixed checkpoints, whether or not referred to a secondary detention area, are “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, since the vehicle and its occupants are subjected to a “visual inspection,” the intrusion clearly exceeds mere physical restraint…”
U.S. v Martinez-Fuerte
I had tried to interview Bressi before this posting but I was unable to get a hold of him. However, he has since sent the following message to clarify the above:
The Supreme Court has approved very limited types of checkpoints. These include sobriety checkpoints in Michigan State Police v. Sitz (1986) and permanent immigration checkpoints in U.S. v Martinez-Fuerte. In 2002, the court explicitly struck down general law enforcement and drug checkpoints in Indianapolis v Edmond. In all cases, the court ruled that a checkpoint stop represents a seizure within the meaning of the 4th amendment which is why the scope of any checkpoint stop must be specifically limited in scope/duration absent probable cause.
Since the Border Patrol commonly use immigration checkpoints as a pretext to look for felons, weapons, terrorists and narcotics as well as aliens, I contend the checkpoints are being conducted in violation of the court’s ruling in Martinez-Fuerte and Edmond. There are additional reasons as well but I’m sure you get the point.
To hear Bressi’s account of his arrest, check out the videos below, which were posted on Youtube posted by etspictures, who also has a long series of videos where security expert Bruce Schneier is speaking. Schneier has previously addressed the War on Photography.
I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.