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Law School Case Brief

Illinois v. Lidster - 540 U.S. 419, 124 S. Ct. 885 (2004)


The law ordinarily permits police to seek the voluntary cooperation of members of the public in the investigation of a crime. Law enforcement officers do not violate U.S. Const. amend. IV by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, by asking him if he is willing to answer some questions, or by putting questions to him if the person is willing to listen. That, in part, is because voluntary requests play a vital role in police investigatory work.


Police set up a highway checkpoint to obtain information from motorists about a hit-and-run accident occurring about one week earlier at the same location and time of night. Officers stopped each vehicle for 10 to 15 seconds, asked the occupants whether they had seen anything happen there the previous weekend, and handed each driver a flyer describing and requesting information about the accident. As respondent Lidster approached, his minivan swerved, nearly hitting an officer. The officer smelled alcohol on Lidster's breath. Another officer administered a sobriety test and then arrested Lidster. He was convicted in Illinois state court of driving under the influence of alcohol. He challenged his arrest and conviction on the ground that the government obtained evidence through use of a checkpoint stop that violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court rejected that challenge, but the state appellate court reversed. The State Supreme Court agreed, holding that, in light of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 148 L. Ed. 2d 333, 121 S. Ct. 447, the stop was unconstitutional.


Did the checkpoint stop violate the Fourth Amendment?




The Court held that the primary law enforcement purpose for the checkpoint stop was to ask vehicle occupants for their help in providing information about a crime committed, in all likelihood, by others. The police expected the information elicited to help them apprehend, not the vehicle's occupants, but other individuals. An information-seeking stop was not the kind of event that involved suspicion, or lack of suspicion, of the relevant individual. A presumptive rule of unconstitutionality did not apply. Thus, the instant court had to judge the stop's reasonableness, hence, its constitutionality, on the basis of the individual circumstances. The relevant public concern was grave because police were investigating a crime that had resulted in a human death. The stop advanced the grave public concern to a significant degree, and the police appropriately tailored their checkpoint stops to fit important criminal investigatory needs. The stops interfered only minimally with liberty of the sort the Fourth Amendment sought to protect. Each stop required only a brief wait in line. Police contact consisted simply of a request for information and the distribution of a flyer. The checkpoint stop was constitutional.

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