A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the use of a checkpoint at the entrance of a national park to prevent illegal hunting.
The checkpoint was established by park rangers in 2007 at the entrance to Kings Canyon National Park, in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the Central Valley.
Rangers said illegal hunting in the park was a significant problem and that the purpose of the stop was to both deter potential hunters and to catch visitors who had illegally killed animals.
All drivers entering and leaving the park were stopped briefly and asked whether they had hunted or planned to hunt. The questioning usually lasted 15 to 25 seconds.
The checkpoint was challenged by a man who was stopped and then charged with driving under the influence after rangers noticed alleged “bloodshot and glassy” eyes and the smell of alcohol on his breath.
The defendant, Ricardo Fraire, argued that the practice of stopping all drivers without a specific suspicion violated his constitutional Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches.
But a three-judge panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the checkpoint was justified because it was minimally intrusive and was aimed at pressing public concerns of “protection of wildlife and ensuring the safety of park visitors.”
Circuit Judge Barry Silverman wrote, “The gravity of the concerns served by the checkpoint was high, the checkpoint was reasonably related to those concerns, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty was minimal.”
Silverman wrote, “It follows that the checkpoint was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
The appeals court upheld a similar ruling by a federal trial judge in Fresno.