DUI Checkpoints in Georgia

Were You Stopped at a DUI Checkpoint in Georgia?

In today's world, we have grown accustomed to the violation of our rights and privacy.  One such accepted violation is the roadside DUI Checkpoint. Society has demanded a crackdown on DUI Drivers in Georgia, and as a result, we have come to accept the incredible inconvenience of being pulled over without probable cause or even a suspicion of any criminal wrong-doing. My personal opinion notwithstanding, my job is to provide the best Georgia DUI Information possible, information based on reality.

As a Former Georgia DUI Prosecutor, I know how to defend cases involving roadside checkpoints.  I will put my more than 25 years experience to work for you.  My reviews can be found on AVVO.

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

The 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.

Georgia appellate courts have stated many times that the Georgia Constitution provides even great protections than the United States Constitution. Yet the United States Supreme Court since Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz and the Georgia Supreme Court in LaFontaine v. State have ruled that DUI Checkpoints are lawful. These are the same appellate courts that somehow think that forcing someone to give a blood sample is also constitutional.

So the present state of affairs have resulted in DUI Roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints have been a heavily used tool of law enforcement in order to detect and apprehend DUI offenders.  A temporary detainment or seizure at a roadside checkpoint is subject to scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment and must have been implemented in a reasonable manner. See Connor v. State, 130 Ga. App. 74 (1973), Christopher v. State, 202 Ga. App. 40 (1991).

It is important to remember (and I wish our judiciary would remember) that a sobriety checkpoint is an exception to our rights.  As an exception, they must be implemented in a narrow way that falls within the exception to our ordinary constitutional rights.

Our 4th Amendment Rights Interpreted:

Seizures are generally only reasonable under the law when there is an articulable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, but roadside checkpoints are an exception to this rule.  To safeguard against roving patrols in which officers exercise unfettered discretion to stop drivers in the absence of some articulable suspicion, roadside checkpoints must be implemented within strict guidelines. If proper protocol was not followed in initiating and executing the roadblock, the stop is illegal.

In Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001), the Georgia Court of Appeals held that compliance with all prongs previously set forth in State v. Golden, 171 Ga. App. 27 (1984) and LaFontaine v. State, 269 Ga. 251 (1998) must be established in order for the checkpoint to pass constitutional scrutiny. It must be shown:

  • That the decision to implement the roadside checkpoint as well as the procedures for carrying it out were made by supervisory personnel, rather than officers in the field; and
  • That the roadside checkpoint served a legitimate purpose; and
  • That all passing vehicles were stopped as opposed to random stops; and
  • That the delay to motorists was minimal; and
  • That the roadblock was well identified as a police checkpoint; and
  • The screening officers' training and experience was sufficient to qualify the officers to make a determination of which drivers should be investigated for impairment.

DUI Defenses in Georgia DUI Checkpoint Cases:

In Georgia and throughout the United States the police cannot simply start a roadblock any time they want and for any reason they want.  There are constitutional requirements that must be followed in order to make the roadblock legal.  To begin with, the decisions on when and where to carry out the roadside checkpoint must be made by a supervisor and cannot be left to the discretion of the field officers. Having a supervisory role alone is not enough, though, and the supervisor must actually have authority to implement checkpoints. See Thomas v. State, 277 Ga. App. 88 (2005).

In Thomas, a police corporal supervising other officers on his shift, met with those other field officers on duty at a convenience store and made the decision to implement a roadblock at that time.  While he held a supervisory role, the Court found that he was acting as a field officer when he made the decision to conduct the roadblock and the decision was made in the precise manner the safeguards were created to prevent.  Elevating the roadblock decision from the officers in the field to the supervisory level limits the exercise of discretion by the officers in the field and prevents the possibility of “roving patrols.”

This is not to say that a supervisor authorizing a roadblock cannot also be present at the roadblock. A supervisor may be present at the roadblock and may at times step in and participate, especially when traffic backs up.  The important distinction to make is whether the officer was acting in his supervisory capacity when the decision to implement the roadblock was made.  See Gonzalez v. State, 289 Ga. App. 549 (2008); Jacobs v. the State, 308 Ga. App. 117 (2011).  When the decision is made in the field as opposed to in advance, the distinction between “field officer” and supervisor is blurred.

The purpose of the Georgia DUI Roadblock must be legitimate.  A checkpoint cannot be implemented for the purpose of general law enforcement or ordinary criminal wrongdoing. See City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000). Roadside checkpoints set up to check for driver's licenses, vehicle safety compliance, and driver impairment have all been approved by Georgia courts. Strickland v. State, 270 Ga. App. 187 (2004), established that checkpoints can be set up for the purpose of searching for witnesses or leads about a crime committed in the area.

The purpose of the roadblock cannot be established by the testimony or conduct of the field officers operating the checkpoint, it must be established at the programmatic level. See Baker.

The roadside checkpoint must be adequately marked.  Typically, a checkpoint will be marked by orange cones and marked patrol cars with their blue lights flashing and the officers will be in uniform and wearing reflective vests.

The delay to passing motorists must be minimal and every vehicle should be stopped initially, but not every vehicle will be asked to pull to the side for further investigation. In order to further detain a vehicle in a roadside checkpoint, the officer does not need a particularized belief or suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, the legal challenge instead would be to the qualifications and experience of the screening officer to make an initial determination as to which drivers should be investigated further.  Workman v. State, 235 Ga. App. 800 (1998).

Observations of slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, fumbling with your driver's license or registration, repeating questions or comments, odor of alcohol, providing incorrect or inconsistent answers may raise suspicion of driving under the influence. Additionally, if a trained law enforcement officer can detect the odor of burning marijuana coming from your vehicle, this will be sufficient probable cause to search your vehicle and could lead the officer to further his investigation to determine whether you are driving under the influence of drugs.

DUI investigation and must be supported by probable cause to believe that you were driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent that you were less safe to drive. The officer will consider his observations when interacting with you, your performance on the standardized field sobriety evaluations, and the result of the preliminary breath testing.

Avoiding a Georgia DUI Checkpoint:

Drivers can also be stopped when an officer suspects you were attempting to avoid a nearby roadside checkpoint.  “[N]ormal driving that incidentally evades a roadblock does not justify an investigative stop, [but] abnormal or unusual actions taken to avoid a roadblock may give an officer a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity even when the evasive action is not illegal." Jones v. State, 259 Ga.App. 506, 507 (2003), citing Taylor v. State, 249 Ga.App. 733, 735, (2001).

The officer may have noticed you pull over to the side of the road a short distance before the roadblock or make an abrupt turn onto a side road. If your driving behavior was sufficiently suspicious to give the officer an articulable suspicion that you were eluding the roadblock, the stop may be valid. An abrupt turn without signaling or a turn into a closed business prior to a roadside checkpoint may appear as evasive. See Terry v. State, 283 Ga. App. 158 (2007).

However, you are allowed to take legal actions that may cause you to avoid a checkpoint and police cannot stop you for doing so if you did not commit any traffic offense. A legal and safely executed U-turn will not create articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle for evading a checkpoint.  See State v. Hester, 268 Ga. App. 501 (2004).

But the test is not whether the reason for the stop was a legal maneuver, but instead the key will be whether the officer had a good faith belief that the action was an attempt to avoid the roadblock. “If the officer acting in good faith believes that an unlawful act has been committed, his actions are not rendered improper by a later legal determination that the defendant's actions were not a crime according to a technical legal definition." Id. However, police intuition alone is insufficient to give rise to the reasonable articulable suspicion needed to stop a vehicle for investigative purposes.

Jorgenson v. State, 207 Ga. App. 545 (1993), shows that an officer needs a particularized explanation of why he believed the driving behavior was evasive and a mere hunch is not enough.  The driver in Jorgenson turned into the entrance to an apartment complex that was close to a roadside checkpoint.  The officer could not give a specific reason for his belief that the driver was attempting to evade the roadblock and simply stated “it was just his intuition.” The Court found that the stop of the driver was unjustified.  Id. Had the driver suddenly decreased his speed to make a sharp turn into the apartment complex, it is likely that the stop would have been upheld because such a maneuver could indicate that the driver had not intended to make the turn until he had observed the police checkpoint.

2013 Georgia Case Law Update on Roadside Checkpoints:

Brown v. State S12G1287 :

The Supreme Court of Georgia has re-affirmed Federal case law that says the State of Georgia has the burden to prove that a roadblock has a proper primary purpose.  The purpose cannot be general law enforcement or ordinary crime control.  It must also be approved and implemented at the "programmatic level," meaning by people other than ordinary traffic officers in the field.

William v. State S13G0178:

The Supreme Court of Georgia has also re-affirmed Federal case law that holds that the supervisor to the roadblock must give advance notification of the roadblock.  In addition, the supervisor must act at an executive programmatic level, meaning he cannot simply decide to implement a roadblock for any reason. The roadblock must be established for a lawful primary purpose other than ordinary crime control.

There are Options if You are Stopped at a Georgia DUI Sobriety Checkpoint:

Since a DUI Checkpoint is a exception to our constitutional rights, the actions of the police of strictly scrutinized.  As a result, there are many defenses, as outlined above. Hiring the top-rated DUI Defense Firm in Georgia is important.  We never assume guilt. As Georgia DUI Attorneys. we know that even if you were impaired, the police cannot prosecute someone unless they follow the rules as well.  As Georgia DUI Lawyers, we know how to raise defenses to unlawful sobriety checkpoints.  We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  This includes nights, weekends, and holidays.  Call now for immediate help.  

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