Update on Georgia Roadside Checkpoints:
In a stunning display of forward thinking, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the decisions of two lower courts recently, finding that Georgia Police Departments are not allowed to just stop anyone anywhere at any time for any reason and hold a roadblock or checkpoint.
While it has been established that there are certain requirements for police to conduct roadblocks, they are generally ignored by police departments across the state, with the lower courts turning a blind eye to defense attorney's objections. In two recent decisions lately however, the Supreme Court has sent an entirely different message both to lower courts and law enforcement agencies.
There are two main variables the Supreme Court based its decisions on in outlining when a police department can set up a roadblock. A roadblock must have a specific purpose in mind, i.e. DUI checkpoint, or drug checkpoint...it CANNOT be in the interests of "general crime control."
That notion has been held to be too vague and generalized for a Constitutional roadblock. The case law outside of Georgia is well established on this front, but has been largely ignored by trial courts across the state until the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Williams v. State of Georgia, No. S13GO178.
In that case, Bibb County Sheriff's Sergeant, Bruce Jordan directed his unit to set up a roadblock for a sobriety and license checkpoint in downtown Macon early one Saturday morning. James Williams was stopped at the checkpoint, at which time deputies noticed the odor of alcohol coming from his truck. Williams began performing field sobriety tests and at some point refused to continue, after which he was arrested and charged with DUI and having an open container of alcohol.
The Supreme Court overturned two lower court rulings upholding the validity of the roadblock, stating that State had failed to prove the purpose of the checkpoint was anything other than general crime control. In addition to having a specific stated purpose, a checkpoint such as the one in question must also stem from a valid police department policy on checkpoints.
At the time of the case, the Bibb County Sheriff's Department roadblock policy simply stated that a roadblock could be authorized if they "serve legitimate law enforcement purposes" without any other limitation. The Court noted that roadblock policies do not need to be put into writing, but that they do need to state some other purpose than general crime control, which was clearly the purpose of Bibb County's policy until that point.
In another surprising ruling the Court overturned lower court holdings and invalidated a roadside checkpoint set up in Cobb County, as well.
In that case the Court addressed another general rule of checkpoints, i.e. that a checkpoint must be set up in advance by persons acting at a supervisory level, rather than simply an officer in the field making a decision spontaneously.
In the Cobb County case, State of Georgia v. Douglas Brown , No. S12G1287 Douglas Brown was stopped at a checkpoint that had been set up pursuant to a decision by Sergeant Andrew Marchetta one day in 2010 in order to address complaints in the neighborhood that drivers were speeding, racing and littering there. Marchetta set up the roadblock with specific instructions to stop every vehicle and check driver's licenses, vehicle registrations and proofs of insurance.
The Court forewent the conclusion that this checkpoint was set up for the purpose of general crime control, instead relying on the Defendant's argument that the checkpoint was invalid because the State had failed to prove that Marchetta was operating in a supervisory capacity and he had not set up the roadblock in advance.
The Court ruled the evidence supported the premise that Marchetta was acting, not in a supervisory role, but as an officer in the field, and that he had failed to set up the checkpoint in advance to occur at a specific time and place.
In handing down these rulings the Georgia Supreme Court has established that police departments across the State are not being given free rein to set up checkpoints whenever they'd like and for whatever purpose they choose. The Court has finally joined most other states in the union in following the requirements laid out for roadblocks in the case of State of Michigan v. Sitz 496 U.S. 444 (1980).
It is clear that checkpoints and roadblocks are infringements on the Constitutional rights afforded by the Fourth Amendment. In proper cases however, they are seen as necessary infringements, as long as law enforcement personnel can show they have followed requisite procedures.
It has long been a tradition in Georgia however, to side step the Fourth Amendment in giving police departments considerable deference in choosing where, when and how they may set up roadblocks. Georgia courts have traditionally forgotten that a roadblock is an exception to the 4th Amendment, and as an exception, the implementation should be narrowly drawn to pass Constitutional muster.
The Georgia Supreme Court, with these recent rulings, has decided that enough may be enough, overturning decades of contradictory rulings.
If you feel that you have been stopped at an illegal roadblock, or if you have been cited for DUI anywhere in Atlanta or North Georgia, feel free to call the Law Offices of Richard S. Lawson to schedule a free consultation. With over 20 years of experience defending clients charged with DUI across the State, Richard Lawson is one of the most highly-rated DUI attorneys in Georgia. His reviews can be found on AVVO, and there are many client recommendations on this site.