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A checkpoint is a balance between public interest and individual’s right of privacy

Facts

In 2005, Wayne Frost, acting Chief of Police for Waynesboro Police Department (WPD), issued verbal orders for roadblocks within the city limits of Waynesboro for the month of January. Since there were no written policies concerning roadblocks conducted by the WPD, Frost put oral policies in place. The oral policies regarding road blocks included:

1. The roadblock should be in a well lit area;
2. The location of the roadblock should be inside the city limits;
3. It should be where people can see law enforcement officers;
4. Law enforcement vehicles should have the blue lights on;
5. Law enforcement officials should wear vests;
6. There should be room for people to pull their vehicles off the road safely;
7. The time of the roadblock should be between 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.

On January 15, 2005, The WPD officers, along with the MHP, decided to conduct the roadblock on Highway 184 in front of the Western Sizzlin. Frost did not explicitly tell his officers at what point or what time to conduct this specific roadblock because such time and place was within the officers’ discretion. There were no logbooks kept, but the officers were required to indiscriminately stop every vehicle coming through the roadblock and check both the driver’s license and insurance card.

Additionally, officers were instructed to pull over a vehicle if the smell of alcohol was detected or if the driver had an outstanding warrant. Generally, if everything checked out with a vehicle, and its driver, the stop was designed to take approximately one minute.

The police vehicles had their flashing blue lights on and some of the officers were wearing reflective vests which had police on it. Every single vehicle which passed through the roadblock that night was stopped and if there were no violations, the drivers were sent on their way. On the other hand, if a violation were found or suspected, the driver was requested to pull his/her vehicle over into the Western Sizzlin parking lot, which was closed during this operation.

Milton McLendon pulled up to the roadblock, and during the check of McLendon’s driver’s license, officers smelled what they suspected to be an intoxicating beverage on his breath; therefore, McLendon was requested to pull his vehicle into the Western Sizzlin parking lot. McLendon then consented to a search of his car.

McLendon told trooper Holt Ross that he had been at the club earlier, where he had a couple of drinks. McLendon failed the field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer showed McLendon had a breath alcohol content. McLendon then took the intoxilyzer test at the police station and the results revealed a breath-alcohol content of 0.13%.

He was convicted of DUI, first offense, and fined $500. On appeal, he argued the roadblock was unconstitutional. MSC affirmed.

Analysis

In deciding whether the subject roadblock in today’s case was an unconstitutional seizure of McLendon in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Miss. Const. art. 3, § 23 1890, we must consider the required balancing test in determining the issue of reasonableness. The reasonableness of seizures that are less intrusive than a traditional arrest depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual’s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers.

A. Public interest

McLendon argues that the purpose of the subject roadblock was to look for any violation of state law or any city ordinance. Thus, he argued it served the interest of general crime control which the U.S. Supreme Court in Indianapolis v Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), prohibited (note: Edmond was a drug checkpoint).

Although McLendon is correct in asserting that this court will not uphold the validity of a roadblock if the justification for the seizure was based on the general interest of crime control, the purpose of the subject roadblock was not based on the general interest of crime control, but rather the roadblock was set up for the primary purpose of checking driver’s licenses and insurance cards. Thus, public concerns were served by the subject roadblock and the ultimate seizure of McLendon.

In Briggs, MCOA addressed the constitutionality of a roadblock. Briggs was stopped at a routine roadblock, the purpose of which was to check for driver’s licenses and vehicle registration. When an officer approached Briggs vehicle, the officer smelled alcohol. As a consequence, Briggs was transported to the jail and administered an intoxilyzer test, which Briggs failed, and thereafter, Briggs was convicted of DUI, third offense.

MCOA stated in Briggs that the State arguably has an interest in ensuring that drivers of vehicles are properly licensed and that vehicles are properly registered and periodically inspected. Additionally, it is the primary purpose which determines whether a roadblock is constitutional. We agree with the reasoning of Briggs.

In Dale, the MCOA stated the procedure of stopping each driver at a checkpoint is a very effective means of determining whether drivers are properly licensed. By doing so, many people are stopped, and each person’s license is examined. This is far more effective than the random stops the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed in Delaware v Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979).

Based on the sound reasoning of Dale, McLendon’s argument that the subject roadblock should be considered random because several factors pertaining to the roadblock were solely within the officers’ discretion lacks merit. Although no written policies regarding the procedure for setting up a roadblock were in place, the WPD officers were permitted to choose the destination, time, and length of the roadblock; and no logbooks were kept detailing how many cars were stopped or given tickets.

Dale stands for the proposition that when every vehicle traveling through the roadblock is stopped, as opposed to a random stopping of only some vehicles, the officers’ discretion has been effectively removed, thus likewise removing as well any potential unconstitutionality of the subject roadblock.

B. Individual’s right to personal security

McLendon relies on Prouse to assert his argument that to permit a field officer to determine, at his discretion, the location, time, or duration of a sobriety checkpoint without any legitimate bases for that determination would be to sanction the kind of unconstrained and standardless discretion which the U.S. Supreme Court sought to prohibit in Prouse.

Prouse involved a random license stop. An on duty patrolman arbitrarily decided to pull over the respondent in Prouse without observing any violation of the law or suspicious activity. The patrolmen testified he merely decided to stop the driver and check the driver’s license and registration. Not until the driver was already pulled over did the patrolman smell marijuana. In this case, McLendon was stopped during a systematic, stationary roadblock in which every vehicle passing through was stopped.

McLendon further asserts the WPD officers, along with the MHP officers, were given unbridled discretion, and that there was no particular standard of setting up roadblocks. McLendon claims the roadblock site had not been determined by policy making officials and no logbooks were kept concerning the operation of the roadblocks.

However, McLendon fails to recognize that while there were no written guidelines or set procedures in place, the officers stopped every single vehicle which came through the roadblock. Thus, there was no unbridled officer discretion since the officers did not choose who to stop and who not to stop.

We also note that we have previously in Drane v State, 493, So. 2d 294 (1986), upheld the constitutionality of a roadblock where there were no set procedures or guidelines in place for the roadblocks. We held that by stopping every vehicle the officers’ uncontrolled discretion was removed. Therefore, we unquestionably classify the subject roadblock in today’s case as routine and not random.

Accordingly, the intrusion did not severely interfere with McLendon’s individual liberty. For the reasons discussed, we conclude that the State’s interest in performing the subject roadblock on January 15, 2005, substantially outweighs the minimal intrusion on McLendon’s individual liberty.

 

https://courts.ms.gov/images/Opinions/CO37297.pdf