May I See Your Papers Please?

by Rick Gee

Abby Newman of Ferrum, Virginia is my newest hero. After you watch these videos, she may become your hero too. 

On September 12, 2000, Ms. Newman was traveling along Virginia 40, minding her own business, when a state police officer motioned for her to pull over. Had Ms. Newman been speeding? Was she weaving around after a night of cocktails? Was she a victim of racial profiling? No, she was pulled over for a routine ďlicense and registration checkpoint.Ē 

Since she had done nothing wrong, and was being stopped for no good reason, Abby Newman was in no mood to cooperate with the police. 

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

Cop: Who are you? What is your name? I need to know who you are. 

Newman: No, you donít. 

Cop: Yes, maíam, I do. 

Newman: Iím not speeding. Iím not intoxicated. I have given you no reason to stop me, and this irritates me. And I would be very happy to go into town and talk to the supervisor, because laws cannot be passedó 

Cop: Maíam, I would be glad to give you my supervisorís name and phone number, but first I have to know who you are. 

Newman: That is insufficient. You do not have to know who I am. 

(This cop must have been utterly flabbergasted at the insolence of this particular serf, because at this point he reaches inside Newmanís car and opens the door.) 

Newman: Sir, you cannot, you cannotó 

Cop: Step out of the vehicle. 

Newman: No sir. You cannot reach into this vehicle. 

Cop: Sure I can. I have to know who you are. 

(Gee, do you think he wants to know who she is? The suspense is killing him.) 

Newman: You do not. 

Cop: I must know who you are before you can go down the road. 

Newman: I have not broken any laws. 

(At this point, Cop #2 comes over, probably thinking, ďWhatís the hold-up here? I have a very important appointment at Krispy Kreme!Ē) 

Cop: I have not accused you of breaking any laws, maíam.  

(Not yet he hasnít. Just give him a minute; heíll come up with something.) 

Newman: You just reached in my vehicle and opened this door. 

Cop: I have no idea who you are. You may be wanted in ten states for all I know, OK? I need to know who you are. Do you have a driverís license? 

(Apparently Officer Vic here feels no compunction whatever in assuming the worst about this ďsuspect.Ē) 

Newman: It just occurred to me that you have no probable cause. 

(Probable cause? Where do you think this is, lady? America?) 

Cop: Shut the ignition off. 

Newman: What? 

Cop: Turn your car off for me. 

Newman: Why? 

Cop: Because Iím asking you to turn the car off. Turn the car off.

(Doesnít sound like heís asking to me. Sounds more like a direct order.) 

Cop: Are you going to give me your driverís license? Youíre not going to give me your driverís license? 

Newman: No. 

Cop: OK, do you realize youíre obstructing justice? 

(Obstructing justice? Isnít that what Slick Willie did? This woman is just sitting in her car, standing up for herself.) 

Newman: Iím on the side of the road and Iím not doing any such thing. You asked me to pull overó 

Cop: Youíre obstructing justice. 

Newman: Justice? 

Cop: Yes maíam. And I donít know who you are. 

(His dogged pursuit of the identity of this dangerous criminal continues unabated.) 

Newman: You donít need to know who I am. 

Cop: Yes maíam, I do. 

Newman: I donít know who you are, sir. 

Cop: Step out of the car for me. 

Newman: No sir. 

Cop: I am trooper Mike Boylan with the Virginia State Police. 

(Way to go, Mike. Sheís sure to crack now!) 

Newman: You are violating my United States constitutional rights. No matter what the laws in the state of Virginia have to say, they cannot usurp that. Any laws that go contrary to the United States constitution are null and void, and I do not have to submit to them. I am not intoxicated. You have already stated you donít know who I am, so thereforeó 

(Uh oh, Mike. She sounds pretty smart: ďusurpĒ and ďnull and void.Ē She must be a lawyer or something.) 

Cop: Thatís the whole point: I donít know who you are. I told you who I am, OK? 

(Thatís the way, Mike. You tell her whoís boss.) 

Cop: This is an approved checking detail site. 

(Donít you feel safer knowing that the cops are meticulously checking details of license and registration instead of, oh I donít know, hunting down real criminals?) 

Cop: Are you gonna tell me who you are? 

Newman: No sir. 

Cop: Youíre not gonna tell me who you are? 

(Mike, isnít it obvious at this point that she has no intention of telling you her name? Maybe if you ask her another 16 times, sheíll tell you everything: her name, her measurements, where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. If that doesnít work, maybe you can haul her downtown and put her under the hot lights, submit her to Chinese water torture, or better yet, take off her shoes [ďI need you to take off your shoes. Are you gonna take off your shoes?Ē] and give her forty lashes with the bastinado.) 

Newman: You have not charged me with anything. You have not told me Iíve done anything wrong, and I do not owe you that, sir, because I donít serve you; you serve me. And I think you and your bosses and everybody else who writes the laws have forgotten that. 

Cop: I told you, my bosses donít write the laws, we simply enforce the law, maíam. 

(Hey Mike, take out your gun and show her youíre not fucking around.) 

Newman: Even if theyíre wrong? 

Cop: Is that worth debating here on the side of the road? 

(Uh, Mike, you forgot to ask her what her name is.) 

Newman: Yes sir, it is, because when you take one, you take another, you take another, and before you know it, we canít go anywhere without our papers, and thatís what this is: ďMay I see your papers please? You canít travel down this road, maíam, unless you show me your papers please.Ē Thatís what this is. 

Cop: Step out of the car for me. 

(Say ďpretty pleaseĒ Mike.) 

Newman: Sir. 

Cop: Step out of the car for me. 

Newman: I do not have to obey you. Iíve not broken any laws. 

Cop: Iím asking you to step out of the vehicle for me. 

(He is so patient and polite!) 

Newman: And Iím saying Iím not going to step out of my vehicle. Youíve already told me the stickers are in order. I wasnít traveling, and under speed. Iíve done nothing wrong, and this is absolutely wrong. 

Cop: Do you have your driverís license with you? 

(Mike has grown weary of Ms. Newmanís stalling tactics. He also has an appointment at Krispy Kreme. He and Cop #2 decide to give up on persuasion and resort to force.) 

Newman: Donít reach inside my vehicle. 

Cop: Iím going to place you under arrest for obstructing justice. 

Newman: What am I obstructing, sir? SIR! 

Cop: Step out of the car for me. Step out of the car for me. 

Newman: You are physically forcing me out of myóno sir, donít you touch any of my personal belongings in this car. Youíre right Iíve recorded this conversation. Yes I did. 

Cop: Resisting arrest. 

Newman: I did not resist. 

Cop #2: Iíll get the car. 

(Ah, to hell with the Constitution, officer. Go ahead and search that car. No need for a warrant, or even probable cause.) 

Newman: Donít you take one single item out of my vehicle, sir. (To Cop): Iím not fighting you. 

Cop: Youíre under arrest for resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and assaulting a police officer. 

Newman: I did not assault you. 

(Later, when Ms. Newman is presumably handcuffed and in the squad car, our keystone cops engage in an illegal search of the car.) 

Cop: Would you say I did anything wrong? 

(Of course not, Mike. You are a veritable paragon of virtue.) 

Cop #2: No. 

Cop: I mean, sheís gotta present me a driverís license. 

Cop #2: Yep. Sheís got to. 

(The Adam-12 duo continues to rifle the car, looking for something with which they may trump up some additional charges, no doubt.) 

Cop: Strategies of Submarine Warfare, Hidden Agenda. 

Cop #2: Man, sheís into this weird crap. 

(Yeah, itís really scary. She sounds like the type who would read Clancy!) 

Cop:, The Bear and the Dragon, Patriot Games Ö Well, I better get a record started. 

Cop #2: Do you wanna ask her, or Ö 

Cop: Iíll just write down she invoked her right to remain silent, even though she donít believe in our laws. 

(I had no idea that the verb ďto doĒ was so difficult to conjugate, especially for a smart cop like you, Mike. Thatís OK. You doesnít need to know how to speak proper when you have that gun to do the talking for you.) 

*   *   *   *   *   *   * 

Do we need any further proof that the Constitution is dead in this country? The Fourth Amendment states ďThe right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.Ē 

Abby Newman was very much aware of her constitutional rights on that September evening. Furthermore, she was willing to take a stand for those rights. Clearly, the search of her car was unreasonable; the cops had no warrant, nor did they have probable cause.  

Setting up a checkpoint where citizens are pulled over at random and harassed is a violation in itself. Usually they are set up under the guise of removing drunk drivers from the highways. How can these checkpoints be legal? Simple: the Supreme Court of the United States says so. In Michigan State Department of Police v. Sitz (1990), SCOTUS ruled that ďIn sum, the balance of the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.Ē 

Look, just because the Supreme Court issues such an opinion doesnít make it right, or even constitutional. Remember, judges, even the top nine judges in the land, are merely lawyer-politicians in black robes and are an integral cog in the wheel of the state apparatus. We should not be surprised when the Supreme Court rules in favor of another branch of government and against the interests of individual liberty. 

Such checkpoints have no place in a free society. And what is the compelling State interest in making sure that randomly detained drivers have their license and registration in their possession? Whether the checkpoint is a DUI checkpoint or a detail checkpoint, the result is the same: the individual loses his liberty, and the state grows ever more tyrannical. 

In the interest of justifying such harassment, politicians and their statist supporters typically fall back on the mantra of the nanny state: we are here to protect you and provide you with security. Once again, they ignore the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, who taught us ďthey that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ultimately, the protection that the state purports to provide is an illusion, and the dupes among us end up trading their liberty for a handful of air. Count me among those who wish to retain their liberty.

August 17, 2001


Rick Gee writes a monthly column entitled ďOn LibertyĒ for The Valley News in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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