In 2011, Lamar County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Craft and five or six other deputies operated a driver’s license checkpoint. It was dark, but the deputies were in uniform, wearing reflective vests, and police cruisers were parked at the checkpoint with their blue lights flashing. Craft testified Michael Rogowski pulled up to the checkpoint.
Craft asked to see Rogowski’s driver’s license, and Rogowski refused to show it. Craft opened Rogowski’s vehicle door and unbuckled his seat belt. Rogowski “locked out his arms and legs,” and refused to get out of the vehicle. Craft testified Rogowski was then forcibly removed from the vehicle, and they struggled for a few moments. Rogowski was then handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct.
Rogowski testified he was driving home from a class project at the University of Mississippi and observed something in the unlit road, which at first he took to be an animal of some kind, but upon getting closer, Rogowski realized he was looking at a human figure in dark clothing standing in the middle of the road in the left lane his vehicle was in. Rogowski testified the intersection was not well lit, but the individual turned on a flashlight and waived it at him, so he slowed to a stop by the person, and partially rolled down his window.
Rogowski said the individual shined the flashlight directly into his eyes and blinded him. At some point in time, Rogowski noticed there was more than one individual. He further noticed that at least one individual wore a small yellow vest, but the vest was not at all reflective.
Rogowski stated the individual at his vehicle’s window became angry and asked for his identification, and before he could ask who the people were or what they were doing, they reached inside his vehicle and tried to remove him from it, so he locked his arms on the steering wheel. He stated he was attempting to engage his vehicle’s clutch and put the transmission in neutral to avoid harming anyone. Only then did he notice the individuals were police officers.
Rogowski was convicted of disorderly conduct and fined $500. On appeal, he argued the checkpoint was unconstitutional. MCOA affirmed.
In MSC case McLendon and MCOA case Dale, both courts said that routine traffic stops are justifiable because they are only minimally intrusive, and the checkpoints themselves are very effective in determining whether drivers are properly licensed.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), said that in determining whether a roadblock is a reasonable seizure, the inconvenience of a typical motorist is balanced against the State’s interest in performing the roadblock.
A. Public concern/advancing public interest
Rogowski urges that we find the State must demonstrate that an individual traffic stop has some statistical degree of effectiveness in detecting unlicensed drivers to prove it served a public concern. Similarly, Rogowski contends the State must show this particular traffic stop met some statistical measurement of effectiveness in serving the public interest.
In Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly stated the effectiveness of a traffic stop is not an invitation for courts to inquire into the effectiveness of how “politically accountable” law enforcement agencies allocate their resources. Further, the Sitz Court expressly stated the inquiry into effectiveness does not support a “searching examination” of effectiveness.
Rather than determining whether a traffic checkpoint is legally justified by a degree of statistical usefulness, the United States Supreme Court has restrained itself to inquire only as to either the purpose of the stop or the nature of the liberty deprivation. Uniform traffic stops are generally viewed favorably when the purposes are to enhance road safety, protect the public from unlicensed drivers, identify unregistered vehicles, and locate intoxicated drivers.
However, when traffic stops are used to look for evidence of “ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” such as possession of illegal drugs, then there is a lack of probable cause to support the seizure that results in an illegal seizure. See U.S. Supreme Court case Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000).
Further, the U.S. Supreme Court in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979), said it is not permissible for law enforcement to randomly stop some, but not all, vehicles at a checkpoint, when there is no discernable reason to detain any of the vehicles.
Craft testified that he and the other deputies were conducting a routine traffic-safety checkpoint, and vehicles were routinely and regularly stopped. Nothing in the record suggests Craft and the other deputies were seeking to find evidence of crimes unrelated to traffic safety. Nothing in the record even suggests that Rogowski was subjected to a random stop, in which only some individual motorists were stopped.
Thus, Craft’s testimony established the checkpoint was set up to serve the permissible interest of highway safety. Nothing in the record supports a finding that Rogowski was subjected to any more, or any less, deprivation of liberty than all other motorists passing through the driver’s license checkpoint.
Therefore, we find that the checkpoint at issue in this case served a public concern and advanced a public interest, and Rogowski’s liberty interests were not so infringed as to make Rogowski’s stop at the driver’s license checkpoint an illegal seizure.
B. Severe intrusion on individual liberty
Rogowski contends the specific “intensity of the questioning” and “abuse of discretion” by sheriff’s department personnel transformed what is typically a minimal intrusion on liberty in a traffic-checkpoint stop into a severe intrusion. Rogowski contends this severe intrusion made the seizure illegal, and therefore requires that we reverse his conviction of disorderly conduct.
Craft’s testimony was that the stop of Rogowski’s vehicle was no different from other stops, and Rogowski’s actions, when he refused to present his driver’s license and then struggled against being removed from the vehicle, disrupted the operation of the checkpoint. Rogowski’s testimony was quite to the contrary, and he contended he was unfairly surprised and then arrested despite behaving in a reasonable manner.
Nevertheless, witness credibility is for the finder of fact, and will not be disturbed on appellate review without some showing of manifest error. The county court judge found Craft to be more credible, and this court will not overturn that finding based on the record.
Additionally, Rogowski contends there were no established procedures or guidelines for the operation of the checkpoint. This court in Dale previously declined to hold sheriff’s department officials are required to have “set departmental procedures” for operating traffic- stop checkpoints. We do not see any reason to depart from this holding.
In sum, we do not find the record shows Rogowski was subjected to any more intrusion into his liberty interests by the stop/seizure than the intrusion suffered by all other drivers passing through the driver’s license checkpoint. Of course, his arrest deprived him of more liberty interest than the deprivation suffered by those drivers who were not arrested. However, we cannot say the county court judge erred in finding the reason for the arrest was Rogowski’s disorderly conduct.