US checkpoints

A US man has filed a lawsuit against the city of Pennsylvania after being stopped for “voluntary” DNA checks. The suit follows a state-wide campaign by police in Reading, Pennsylvania who created checkpoints in the city in which citizens were forced to stop and then asked if they would like to ‘volunteer’ to have their cheeks swabbed in search of legal, prescription drugs.

But one resident Ricardo Nieves has spoken out against the practice and claimed that it was far from voluntary.

He said: “Nothing about this incident was ‘voluntary’ in my case. I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on so many levels. I’m not a legal expert, but being forced off the road and unlawfully holding me against my will for any period of time, I would consider my liberty to be compromised and falsely imprisoned.”

According to the lawsuit, an officer stepped out into Nieves’s lane of traffic, blocked his further advance, and flagged him to pull off the public road into a parking lot on Laurel Street.

It was then that a woman with a clipboard walked up to him, stated he was not being pulled over and proceeded to ask if he would participate in a survey. According to the lawsuit, the woman explained that: “the purpose of the stop was a survey of drivers’ behavior and that she wanted to take a cheek swab to check for the presence of prescription drugs.”

After repeatedly telling the woman he was not interested in volunteering his DNA, he was finally allowed to go.

The survey was conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

It was also conducted with the full cooperation of the city of Reading and its police department and that they were awarded a considerable sum for their part.

At a city council meeting, Nieves said: “When people are manipulated, it’s anti-democratic, and what’s being done here is controlling people. People don’t want to be controlled. People want to make their own decisions, because consciousness and the freedom to think is a fundamental human right.”

Nieves’ has launched a lawsuit which asked for an injunction and damages for “conspiracy to violate the Constitution, constitutional violations and false imprisonment”.

Under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, citizens are supposed to be protected against and have the right to refuse against unreasonable and unwarranted searches.

History has given many examples were voluntary measures have become compulsory. For example, when airport scanners were first introduced, travellers were told that they had the right to refuse to go through them and could instead opt for a ‘pat down’ instead. However, now, at many airports across the UK and US the option to select a ‘pat down’ no longer exists.

In some cases, particularly in circumstances involving the police, refusal to co-operate in a “voluntary” search has more often than not led to detention, arrest and even more invasive searches.

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