Sunday, July 7, 2013

Barney Fife, a Viral Video and the Fourth Amendment

As reported by WATE 6 News out of Knoxville, Tennessee on its Facebook page, “A driver recorded his stop during a DUI checkpoint in Rutherford County, TN and uploaded the video to YouTube. ... [J]ust hours after it was posted, it had more than 190,000 views. The driver wrote on his YouTube page that the DUI checkpoint happened in Murfreesboro and the deputy told him ‘it is okay to take away my freedom.’” 

You can see the video below.

It would appear that the young man who shot and produced the video, intentionally drove into the July 4th DUI checkpoint for the purpose of provoking law enforcement into a mini-constitutional show down.

Needless to say, the viral video has provoked a multitude of opinions and emotions.

It is difficult to watch the segment of the video where the sheriff deputy manipulates a response from the drug-sniffing K9 and not feel a little outraged. Some might feel that the young man who was stopped and detained, was just being a little rabble-rousing jackass.

What is the lesson in all of this?

Law enforcement operates under a complex and evolving set of rules that prescribe how it can go about approaching people and investigate wrong-doing, and making arrests. The Fourth Amendment states, in part, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...” (Italics added). The Fourth Amendment’s limit on government actions is extended to state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Those who get aroused by government overreaching and infringement on personal liberties, usually within the context of taxation and the Second Amendment’s ‘right to bear arms,’ should be just as concerned with the prohibition against unlawful search and seizures. The Fourth Amendment does more to keep the government out of our business than anything else in the constitution. It’s what really makes us free in the grandest sense of the word.

There will always be a Deputy Barney Fife out there, who will bend the rules — or flat out break them — which is inexcusable. Laws are rules, and breaking rules is cheating.

A lawyer-friend, and criminal defense attorney, told me that law enforcement attracts two types of people. It attracts, “people who love the rule of law, and want to protect and serve, and bully types.”

In my experience, most career law enforcement officers are professional. But some, maybe laboring under the stress of meeting an arrest quota, take things a step too far, which is not the American ideal as it is enshrined in the greatest legal document ever drafted by human beings — The Constitution of the United States.

Cops are necessary and good, and we have to be able to trust them.


  1. So...I've been thinking about this video for days...and my own criminal record. When I have had to hire attorneys, and I tell them why, they always shake their head at me for consenting to a search, and admitting that contraband and paraphernalia is mine. I have never had "good results" from cooperating or telling the truth, so there's that. What this video tells me, is that it doesn't really matter whether you are guilty and cooperative, or innocent and standing for your rights, if they decide they want you, they will get you. So, what are we supposed to think?

    1. That's why we have to be able to trust that people in a democratic society are more inclined to follow the rules. You just can't have a good democracy without that trust factor.

  2. So, Collin, the question that comes to mind here is, "would you take the case charging illegal search?".

    1. I used to do a lot of criminal defense. Search and seizure issues often were at the forefront of the matter. I have been away from the criminal courts for over a decade and refer criminal matters to those who make a career of it.

    2. Well said. LOL Allow me to rephrase. In your professional judgement, is there enough evidence, contained in the video, for a competent attorney, who routinely litigates these types of cases, to bring charges, civil or criminal, against the officers involved?

    3. Ha. Sorry. I was being too literal. The short and honest answer is that I do not know. The evidence in the video might help dismiss the case or acquit the individual had he ever been arrested. Whether he would have a civil cause of action for false imprisonment -- maybe, but I believe he would have to prove actual damages, like lost wages, or something along those lines.