Drug-search honeypots

Freeway signs warning of upcoming drug checkpoints are actually a ruse: the local sheriff sets up a checkpoint at the next offramp and searches panicky motorists who pull off to ditch their stashes. An accompanying map on the original post (click through below) gives the locations of similar checkpoints all over the USA, and warns, "if you see one of these signs, don't fucking exit."

Narcotics Interdiction Checkpoints (via Schneier)


  1. Well if there is no traffic, there is no check point, period. Anyone that’s ever been through a check point would know this…DUH.

  2. Or if you’re absolutely clean and not in a hurry, pull over and take one for the team. You can always claim you missed a turnoff. Swarm the bastards with timewasting good citizens.

    1. Or if you’re absolutely clean and not in a hurry, pull over and take one for the team.

      Agreed. The failed drug war shows that we’re not going to reduce the signal, so we may as well increase the noise!

      1. I wouldnt take the exit even if I were squeaky clean. What if their dog smelled yours? What if they decided whatever cash was in your wallet is an excessive amount? Are all your vehicle’s lights in order? Any window tint? Remember job 1 for these operations is revenue.

    2. If you’re white and in a luxury car, maybe you should go ahead and take one for the team, but me in my beater? Every time I encounter police they ticket me for something. Exhaust too loud, dome light out (not tail light, that internal light in the back passenger area!), won’t give me time to present insurance and then give me a ticket for no insurance, etc; anything to justify probable cause/suspicion for the inevitable search.

      1. Wow, where do you live? I drive a 12-year-old minivan that’s dirty, dented and rusty, and I haven’t been pulled over since 2006 (it was a fair cop; I was going 18 mph over the posted limit).

  3. Might be nice to have a pleasant stroll around the area after the Sheriff and his dog have packed it in for the day.

  4. Don’t they burn CCTV poles in the UK?
    I wonder if that will become a common tactic with these sign trailers and the photo radar trailers.
    Next honeypot police trailers with cameras pointed at them to catch the arsonists.

    1. Speed cameras. You can spy on people all you want and they won’t care, but when you touch their car or their purse the gloves come off.

    1. This practice grew up as a way to get around the Supreme Court holding in City of Indianapolis v. Edmonds. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a checkpoint where there was no individualized reason for suspicion was unconstitutional. But this practice creates a certain amount of individualized suspicion. By putting them on little used exits, the cops can claim reasonable suspicion when somebody actually uses the exit.

      It has been upheld by lower courts. See U.S. v. Yousif (Not Reported in F.Supp.2d), 2000 WL 1916534,E.D.Mo.,2000. This case came out after Edmonds, and noted:

      “In defendant Yousif’s case, the combination of the I-44 signage and the lack of any apparent reason for a motorist to exit I-44 at the Sugar Tree Road exit other than to avoid the announced drug checkpoint established a reasonable suspicion that every vehicle that came to the checkpoint was involved in illicit drug activity.”

      1. Please ignore the comment I posted as “anon” (too lazy to sign in) at #25. As I noted in #40, I found that the case I listed in #25 was overturned on appeal. My bad for not doing my research properly.

    1. Ha, you’re funny.

      On another note, this strikes me as a really creative and good idea by that sheriff. In his universe this is downright smart and graceful.

    2. You mean, why do something illegal? Or why do something that alters your mood? Either way, I don’t understand the connection you’re making with the ‘bad life’ quip.

      Pretty much everyone does something illegal everyday. Read Four Felonies A Day.

      Pretty much everyone does something mood-altering, whether it’s yoga, consumption of sugar or caffeine, sex, imbibing marijuana, or taking prescription mood-altering medication…

      I guess I don’t see how any of those perfectly normal and widespread activities indicate a ‘bad life’.

    3. So I’m guessing you don’t drink alcohol? The most prevalent (and by no means harmless) drug on the western market? Or maybe that would be caffeine actually? Or tobacco?

      I also assume you never ride a roller-coaster or do anything fun?

      Anyway, that was a dumb thing to say, maybe you’re a troll?

      On topic:

      Drug laws are completely arbitrary and irrelevant. Other than giving the police a hole to dig and fill back up again of course – we need SOME way to spend the tax money; and god forbid we catch actual criminals with it.

    4. Ok… So, why do drugs in the first place? Is your life really that bad?

      Because God put us on this world for a reason, and drugs are part of that reason.

      You wouldn’t want to squander your consciousness would you, miss out on all of those experiential possibilities?

      Plus: People who “don’t do any drugs” tend to be boorish, self-important twits. You owe it to the people who get unwittingly seated with you at dinner parties to transcend this self-importance. For their sake. It’s the only ethical thing to do!

      1. “Plus: People who “don’t do any drugs” tend to be boorish, self-important twits.”- Hmmm sounds like something only a boorish, self-important twit who smokes a lot of pot would say.

        1. “Plus: People who “don’t do any drugs” tend to be boorish, self-important twits.”- Hmmm sounds like something only a boorish, self-important twit who smokes a lot of pot would say.

          Wouldn’t know; I don’t smoke pot.

          All I know is that people who don’t do any drugs — no pot, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no coffee, etc. — tend (as I said) to be really surpiour about it and, well, boorish. Don’t worry all of you straight-edge types who took exception to my post; I’m sure all of you are exceptions!

      2. People who “don’t do any drugs” tend to be boorish, self-important twits.

        This puts me in mind of a quote by Sir Richard Burton (the explorer not the actor): “I have never met an interesting person who did not drink.”

        1. Alcoholics and drug abusers (not users) like to be around people who make them feel like their using is normal. Hey – most people like to be around people like themselves.

          I’m sure there are many abstainers who would say that the only interesting people are the ones that don’t drink.

          Personally, I’ve done all of the above – drink, use drugs, and now abstain, and I think all people are pretty interesting in their way.

    5. Define drugs.Because when it comes to one of Gods gift maybe you should rethink your mentality. Free maryjane!

    6. Onecos, you’ll never know true happiness until you’ve smoked crack and worshipped satan.

      Try it and let us know how it goes.

    7. Why have contraband in the first place, are you really that scared of others doing as they will if it doesn’t hurt your pretty ‘lil world?

  5. Notice the placement of the sign above. It’s right in front of the sign for the exit. If a driver is going to avoid that ‘checkpoint’, he needs to make a snap judgement to exit NOW.

    When I was back home I took a picture of the checkpoint signs near Giltner, NE that say “Drug Dog In Use”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hackaday/2347538179/ The checkpoint has been there for years. Giltner has less than <400 people so if you exit there with out-of-state plates, you are fuuuuuuuuuuuuucked.

  6. OK, Confession time. (which is why this is an anonymous post). 17 or 18 years ago, in my wayward youth there was just such a “honey pot” trap on i40 near where I grew up in Tennessee. The local Sheriffs office put up signs saying on the interstate saying a Drug check point was ahead, and would wait on the offramp of the next exit out of sight.

    At 16 we all knew that this was a trap, because we assumed that local bumpkin sheriff deputies didn’t have the authority to stop an entire interstate over something as unconstitutional as a drug checkpoint. (yes, we thought in those terms, and still do)

    So we did what any teenage would do when faced with such gross trickery of the public by law enforcement… we stole the drug check point ahead signs. Because the posse set to search would-be drug mules was some distance off, and by necessity out of site, snatching the signs was quite easy.

    Of course this left a team of 10 or 20 officers standing around all day wondering why no one was falling for their trap. A fine thing for law enforcement to do since solving real crimes like rape, murder, and robbery takes actual work.

    My small group of bandit friends took the signs not just once or twice, but 5 times over a two year period. The coup de grass came after the 2 years when we “retuned” all but one of the signs to the sheriff office, placing them up right in the parking lot of the station. That one signs we didn’t return still lives on the wall in my grog, forever a symbol of how I feel about national drug policy.

  7. I used to have a “Drugs saved my life” bumper sticker on the chariot, but it was a bit too much of a heat magnet.
    But it’s true! And my doctor still insists that I keep taking drugs for my health!
    Should I call the Police about her?

  8. Wait a week or two, then start searching the checkpoint advertised as well, and catch a load of people who think they’re too clever for the police.

  9. What fool would fall for this– not me. This is how it goes: Mr. Sheriff sets one of these up and I use the oldest trick in the book– it’s called a “U-turn”. Screw throwing my stuff out the darn window, I’ll just turn around and find a side-road. No Problem-o. Hardy har har, jokes’ on you police! :O

    1. Re Mr. Sleepy – Well, a lot of folks fall for the other honeypots cops use, so I’m sure this would work as well. Also, might be hard to make a U-turn on a divided highway (which this looks like).

  10. Except it’s not illegal to take an exit. I’ve always heard of putting these signs just before a No U-Turn as the last way to escape the checkpoint.

  11. Most people with drugs on them would fall for this. You would have to be pretty level headed to figure this out before the next exit. It makes me wonder about those DUI check points they publish in my local paper. People are sometimes under the impression that police officers can’t lie. You are the one that can’t lie in a situation like that, they can reserve the option to a certain extent.

  12. I once took a night bus from Amsterdam to Paris. In the Amsterdam bus station they made everyone write their names on all their bags before getting on the bus and told us about 20 times we would be searched at the border. I bet there was a cornucopia of drugs in the garbage cans at that bus station.

  13. 31 comments, and only one on the fact that these searches are illegal violations of constitutionally protected privacy? Is this boingboing still?

    To wit – This makes taking a highway exit probably cause for a search. That’s right up there with, when the officer asks if he can search, and you say no, your (legitimate, within-your-rights) decision to withhold consent for a search becoming itself probable cause to search you without consent.

    1. re: these searches are illegal/unconstitutional

      If a driver passes this sign, takes the exit, pulls over to the shoulder, exits car, and drops bags of contraband in a ditch… no, no Constitutional violation if a cop approaches and says pardon me, sir, you appear to be littering oh but my word what manner of litter is this.

      If someone just gets pulled over for taking the exit, and there is no other articulable reason for the stop, the police might have a problem. In theory, anyway.

      1. Sure, watching for people who throw something out of the car window is legit – they’ve committed a ticketable offence by littering, so you can pull them over. While you have them waiting, you can have a partner go check what they threw out, and if it appears to be drugs you have probable cause to search. All legal and above-board.

        Similarly posting such a sign in a spot where U-turns aren’t allowed, and then pulling over those who make illegal U-turns. You can ticket them for that; you might even be able to make the case that the illegal U-turn is probable cause to search.

        But just taking a highway exit, even if it is explicitly to avoid a checkpoint – that’s not illegal, and it gives no indication the driver is doing anything wrong. Just as likely they don’t want to be bothered by a cop who wants to search their car and might get beligerent and “accidentally” break their tail light if they refuse.

        Also note that this is in Louisiana. I’m not from there, but from the impressions I’ve gotten of police in that state, I’d want to avoid their checkpoints for an additional reason – I’d be afraid of police corruption. Just because I have no drugs doesn’t mean a corrupt cop won’t “find” some in order to seize my car under asset forfeiture laws so the local police precinct can buy a nicer pool table. This goes doubly for me since I’m not all bearded and hippy-looking, and from outside the US. If I was non-white I’d be even more afraid.

        1. “Also note that this is in Louisiana.”

          Funny, I thought it was California (in spite of what the original link says). The logo looks like a county highway marker.

    2. (I’ve been doing some research and actually posted a comment on the legality, but it apparently didn’t make it past the moderators. I am now glad that it did not, because I’ve done more research that contradicts my original comment.)

      The cops will claim that this case is different than Indianapolis v. Edmonds because taking an isolated exit to avoid a checkpoint creates suspicion. A case like this happened in Missouri and was litigated after the Edmonds case. A lower court bought that rationale and upheld the search as lawful. (This is the case I originally posted on, called U.S. v. Yousif.) However, on appeal this was overturned. The appeals court wrote:

      “While the checkpoint at issue in the present case differs from the checkpoint at issue in Edmond in that the MHP used signs to suggest to drivers that taking the Sugar Tree Road exit was a way to avoid a police checkpoint, the mere fact that some vehicles took the exit under such circumstances does not, in our opinion, create individualized reasonable suspicion of illegal activity as to every one of them. Indeed, as the government’s evidence indicated, while some drivers may have wanted to avoid being caught for drug trafficking, many more took the exit for wholly innocent reasons-such as wanting to avoid the inconvenience and delay of being stopped or because it was part of their intended route.”
      United States v. Yousif, 308 F.3d 820, 827-28 (8th Cir. 2002).

      So, this kind of “honeypot” is, indeed, a violation of the 4th amendment, at least in the 8th Circuit.

  14. I agree with wrybread. Whether or not you are in favor of drug laws, or the “war on drugs” (I’m not), at least the cops are showing a bit of ingenuity beyond the usual “pull over anyone who looks like a druggie” approach.

  15. This is why I always travel with a Jedi master.

    “This car has no drugs in it.”
    “This car has no drugs in it.”
    “Move along.”
    “Move along. Nothing here.”

  16. Well, that’s embarrassing: they proudly misspelled “Chequeo”.

    I guess the police are too busy fighting the war on drugs to check their spelling before emblazoning it on the side of the freeway.

  17. People who “don’t do any drugs” tend to be boorish, self-important twits.

    I am impressed with the length and girth of your generalization, sir.

    That being said, the notion that taking a particular exit from a highway constitutes probable cause for a search is anathema to the Constitution.

    1. ‘That being said, the notion that taking a particular exit from a
      highway constitutes probable cause for a search is anathema to the Constitution.’

      Exactly what I was about to say. What if that just happens to be your exit?

      Not to mention the fact that random harassment points should not exist for anything that is not going to cause an immediate danger to other road users (driving intoxicated etc).

      Which also brings me to the BS they are trying to introduce to my country, which is that driving with THC in your system is ‘driving while impaired’.

      I used to smoke heavily for 20 years (gave it up about 9 months ago, as I realised it, while not really inhibiting my motivation, gave me an easy thing to do with my motivation) and I’ve never had an accident (most credit should go to a defensive driving course I did as a 16yo). I can honestly say that I can drive safely a couple of hours after a smoke (quite a few actual studies have shown stoned drivers to be safer, although some more recent statistical studies (ie, based on peoples blood tests after accidents) have supposedly shown that this is untrue. However, I suspect skewing based on alcohol consumption as well personally).

      Driving while extremely high is another story… I can notice an impairment if im so wasted I forget im actually driving, and end up sitting at a green light, while off in my head, thinking about something random.

      My point is, it angers me that they can claim i’m ‘impaired’ if i had a smoke 6 hours earlier, whereas I am completely sober and able to drive fine. If this was applied to people having consumed 1 beer 6 hours before, there would be an outcry – but because weed is illegal, and herefore people do not wish to admit they smoke it (despite the country I live in having a VERY high percentage of casual or past weed smokers, probably about 50%), they can get away with it ;-(

    2. I am impressed with the length and girth of your generalization, sir.

      Keep in mind I said:

      people who “don’t do any drugs”


      people who don’t do any drugs.

      The quotes were there on purpose. Surely you know the type — the ones who think any drug use or addiction is a “weakness” and go to great lengths to tell people who they are much “stronger.”

      I once had a friend who said he thought everyone should be addicted to something at some time. Sounded strange, but you have to admit that it’s good for teaching humility (which is the opposite of “self-importance)”.

  18. Or if you’re absolutely clean and not in a hurry, pull over and take one for the team. You can always claim you missed a turnoff. Swarm the bastards with timewasting good citizens.

    Or, you know, just don’t break the fucking law in the first place. I love how we have the freedom to pick and choose the laws we obey and then we act like law enforcement is doing something WRONG when they, you know, enforce the law. Or, heaven forbid, expect you to obey it.

      1. Why are Republicans reading this blog? “Know your enemy”?

        That’s so cute and naive that you assume I’m a Republican simply because I don’t think that possession of illegal drugs should be championed like some passionate, activist cause. It’s drugs. If you want to escape your life or need help feeling good or whatever you tell yourself you like about taking drugs, I don’t give a shit. But don’t pretend like you’re a counter-culture hero sticking it to the man when you smoke a joint. That act was tired fifty years ago when your Janice Joplin was still screeching her away across America. It’s a joke. You know that, right? If you break the law, expect consequences. This is not some great, repressive injustice.

        It’s an unjust law that criminalizes too high a percentage of the population: and the penalties are disproportionate to the “evil”, to boot.

        Then we should repeal seat belt laws. And speed limit laws. And essentially half the tax code. And copyright laws. And intellectual property laws. And public obscenity laws. Also, as much as it pains me to say it, I’ll defer to the courts on “disproportionate penalties,” but thanks anyway, potheads.

        Seriously, though, police ought indeed to enforce the laws:that’s why the Law must be changed when it is unjust:)

        I completely agree. I don’t care if marijuana is made legal. I don’t see why it’s illegal and alcohol isn’t. I figure neither are legal or both are. But whatever. The point I’m making is that this whole “rebellious” attitude is stupid, pointless and counterproductive anyway. Break the law, expect to be caught, expect punishment. If our political machinery is in any way intact and the law is unjust, the law should and hopefully will be changed.

        1. “If you break the law, expect consequences. This is not some great, repressive injustice.”

          Well that all depends on what the law is, isn’t it?
          The law doesn’t define what is right and what is wrong. You’re living in backwards land. At best what is right and what is wrong defines the law, and that’s when we get it right – but there’s plenty of times we get it wrong.

          “Then we should repeal seat belt laws. And speed limit laws. And essentially half the tax code. And copyright laws. And intellectual property laws.”

          Are you serious? Because the jails of america are bursting at the seems with people that don’t wear their seat belts? Or are you suggesting that a disproportionate amount of black men are in jail or speeding? See what you’ve done is just assumed that because it’s against the law it must be bad. Unfortunately in the real world we make laws based upon moral questions like “Is this good for public safety?”. Speed limits are good for public safety. As for intellectual property laws, yes some of them ARE flawed, and SHOULD be reviewed or repealed in every way the prohibition one is.

          But oh no, everyone wants some magic formula for decision making so they don’t have to think. Considering issues on a case by case basis – like in lawmaking – requires thinking.

          1. At best what is right and what is wrong defines the law, and that’s when we get it right – but there’s plenty of times we get it wrong.

            Ideally. Sure. And there are certain things that are ambiguous that society/government simply decide are wrong. And you obey those laws or you get punished, simple as that. If the law is unjust or oppressive or wrong, then hopefully it will be repealed or hopefully you can leave the country to escape it. I don’t think pot being illegal is an unjust law, or a wrong law, or an oppressive law. You might disagree with it, and in fact I myself disagree with it on principle, but that’s completely and totally beside the point I’m making.

            Are you serious? Because the jails of america are bursting at the seems with people that don’t wear their seat belts? Or are you suggesting that a disproportionate amount of black men are in jail or speeding?

            What are you talking about?

            See what you’ve done is just assumed that because it’s against the law it must be bad.

            No. Someone made the point that a law that criminalizes “too high” a portion of the population is unjust. Most, if not all, of the laws I mention criminalize a similar or higher portion of the population than do marijuana laws. So by the logic given, they’re all unjust as well and should be thrown out.

            Point being that the simplistic logic and ideas used by the “legalize it” people are flawed and completely incapable of actually changing the law.

    1. Since all laws are just and proper there is no need to break any of them. We should simply obey all laws without question and hey, if they are repressive or violate our rights in some way, just forget about and they will be changed eventually. Rebellion and protest are counterproductive, we should all simply wait for the law to magically change itself. I guess you think Rosa Parks was being an uppity bitch and the Freedom Riders were breaking the Jim Crow laws and thus deserved any vigilantism and arrest they were subjected to. If only they had subscribed to your ideas about civil disobedience then those laws would have been changed by the “political machinery” in good time. Well, maybe they would still be waiting but at least they wouldn’t have offended you with their silly protests and lamentations. Have fun living in your fantasy world, btw.

  19. I would make a snide quip about how we “have to protect the junkies of America” but, honestly, it’s a slippery slope and these police traps have gone too far already.

  20. So no one has a problem with police lying to the public? Am I the only one who feels cops shouldn’t lie to the public to convince them that they have powers that they don’t actually have?

  21. Ah yes, I first saw these fake checkpoints ten years ago. Back then they’d have an observer watching traffic (no exits in the area) and they pulled over anyone who tossed anything out the window or stopped on the side of the road.

    I’ve encountered actual checkpoints on the interstate too, but they were run by INS/Border Patrol and were asking everyone if they were U.S. citizens (but I’d guess they’d be happy busting someone for drugs too). The sign will tell you if the ‘checkpoint’ is real or not; fake ones say things that allude to drugs, like one I saw that said “CAUTION: CHECKPOINT AHEAD, DRUG DOGS AT WORK” (they were all caps). The real one said “Caution, All Vehicles Must Stop Ahead, U.S. Officers” and at the same moment I saw the sign, I also saw some INS vehicles parked in the median watching for anyone trying to dodge it. Oh, and if an INS agent asks if you’re a citizen, don’t sarcastically reply “Que?” Trust me on this…

    Anyway, they should ban idiots, not drugs. ;)

  22. Anon@28, you retroactively win Teh Internet For The Day for back when you did that.

    Dragonfrog@46 corrected his posting@45 to say “since I am all bearded and hippy-looking” the cops would want to hassle him.
    Really, either one will do, for a corrupt cop – if you’re clean-shaven and short-haired, that’s because you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re a drug dealer from the police :-)

    I expect to get stopped a couple of times a year by cops – I drive an old van, and some years it takes longer to get it through smog repairs and registration than it should, and I’m also bearded and hippie-looking, but I’ve found police are usually calmer and more polite when they stop me than they used to be, since my hair’s going gray and the “license and registration” conversation starts with “let me get my reading glasses”. Little do they imagine…. Fortunately, they don’t happen to have stopped my on days when I’m carrying my mountain dulcimer visibly in the back, in a case that looks suspiciously like a soft-sided rifle case, complete with ammo pockets on side.

  23. These are all over the interstates in Mississippi, Louisianna, Texas, etc. in the days leading up to Mardi Gras!

  24. @Anon #28 On the walls of your ‘grog’. Is that a drinking den?

    Ok, confession time. When I was young I had to drive through a DUI blockade check. I was nervous so stopped the car for a second and then kept going. I got through. YAY! However the quietly sitting coppers in the distance saw me stop and pulled me over AFTER the blockade and goodbye license.

    20 years later, I own a high powered sports car, which I am showing to a friend. We get drunk, have a few smokes, it’s ok I was staying the night, then his estranged wife came ‘home’ and kicked me out. Pissed and stoned I took the wrong exit on the freeway straight into another shutdown. I just kept driving, even smiled and waved thanks politely as they visually checked this middle aged man in his business suit going home and let me through. I also had a broken arm and had to steer and change gears with one arm (I was quite good). I think I would still be in jail.

    I have never done it since. My bowels can’t cope.

    \confession (I feel better now).

  25. Here is how it should be :

    Driver :”Hello Officer, why have I been stopped?”

    Cop: “We are running a checkpoint for [excuse here]”

    Driver: “Sorry, I do not consent to any searches, and affirm my fourth amendment rights. Good day”

    And the driver drives off….

    Unfortunately in the real world, theres a real chance that will get you shot.

  26. It would be amusing if some “English only” yahoos agitated to get the Spanish part of the sign removed and ended up helping non-English speakers avoid the trap.

  27. I actually stumbled on one of these 6 or 7 years ago (don’t remember which state). I took the exit, not to avoid a checkpoint, because I had to pee REALLY bad. The cop didn’t believe me, searched everything, and then followed me to the gas station and stood behind me while I took a piss. Just for that, I hope it let someone else get passed the checkpoint.

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