Roadblock for checking license is constitutional


In 1998, Gray Dale was stopped at a roadblock set up by the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department on County Road 149 in Lafayette County. The roadblock was under the direction of shift supervisor Dennis Carlyle, who had decided to set up the roadblock twenty minutes prior to Dale’s arrest.

At this roadblock, as a driver approached, a deputy would signal the driver with a flashlight to stop the car. This was done with every car that approached the roadblock. The primary purpose of the roadblock was to check licenses and also to check against outstanding warrants. There is no record of the procedures used at this roadblock.

Dale was stopped at 1:17 in the morning by Deputy Jody Mayfield. After noting signs of intoxication (Dale’s nervousness, the smell of intoxicating liquor, and Dale’s bloodshot eyes), Mayfield asked Dale to step out of the car. Mayfield noticed Dale was unsteady on his feet and suspected Dale had been driving under the influence.

Mayfield took Dale into custody and transported him to the Lafayette County Detention Center. Dale consented to a breathalyzer test, and registered a blood alcohol content of .186 percent.

Dale was convicted of DUI second and sentenced to 10 days. On appeal, he argued the stop was unconstitutional. MCOA affirmed.


In Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47  (1979), the U.S. Supreme Court 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. Consideration of the constitutionality of such seizures involves a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.

The two purposes of the roadblock were to check licenses and to check outstanding warrants. In Briggs, we said that the State does arguably have an interest in seeing drivers of vehicles are properly registered and in making sure vehicles are properly registered and inspected.

Dale makes the assertion that the second purpose (checking outstanding warrants) of the roadblock in question, taken with some other facts, caused this roadblock to be unconstitutional. In making this argument, Dale refers to cases by the U.S. Supreme Court, such as City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U. S. 32 (2000), which state the Supreme Court would not uphold roadblocks if the justification for such a seizure was for the general interest of crime control.

This is not the case. The primary purpose of this roadblock was to check licenses. This is a government interest approved by this Court as a basis for a roadblock, and also approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The use of a roadblock for checking outstanding warrants does not prevent or control crime, it simply checks to see if a crime has occurred in which the detainee is suspected of taking part.

Dale points out one of the deputies referred to the area around the roadblock as a problem area. Taking this statement and considering the time of night in which the roadblock was conducted, Dale argues the second purpose of the roadblock was a pretext for the purpose of broader law enforcement functions.

There is no evidence indicating the deputies were operating this roadblock with a hidden agenda or purpose. Checking warrants is a limited purpose, not an overreaching attempt by the police to stop all types of crime. Besides, the primary purpose of this roadblock was a constitutionally acceptable governmental interest, and it is the primary purpose which determines whether a roadblock is constitutional.

The effectiveness of the seizure at serving the governmental interest must also be considered in this balancing test. Little evidence was put forth in this case regarding how many people were stopped at the roadblock or how many of those people had proper driver’s licenses. The procedure of stopping each driver 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). Because this was the procedure being used, the roadblock in this case was effective in serving the government’s interest in making sure the people on the State’s roads are properly licensed.

This Court must also consider the severity of the interference with Dale’s liberty. In making his arguments, Dale urges this Court to treat the roadblock in question as a random stop check, and relies heavily on the case of Prouse. Dale fails to recognize the difference between what was outlawed in the Prouse case and the subject matter of this case.

In the Prouse case, random stop checks were being made in an effort to apprehend unlicensed drivers, and these stop checks were held to be unconstitutional. The officers in Prouse were checking to see if drivers were licensed by picking out cars on the highway and stopping them. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the officers had too much discretion because they chose who they stopped, and held the random stops failed the Brown v. Texas balancing test.

Dale claims the officers in this case were granted too much discretion, and needed set standards to govern their behavior. Dale points out the Lafayette County Sheriff had no set departmental procedures officers must follow during a roadblock which would protect a person’s fourth amendment rights. Dale also notes there were no records kept of the number of stops made at the roadblock.

While there were no set procedures in this case, the officers stopped everyone who came through the roadblock, so there was no picking and choosing among the people that came through.

It should also be noted the MSC has previously upheld roadblocks in Drane v State, 493 So. 2d 294 (Miss. 1986), where there were no set procedures stating law enforcement officers’ discretion was limited by stopping everyone.

This court holds the State’s interest in conducting this roadblock for the purpose of insuring drivers on the State’s roads were properly licensed outweighs the small intrusion on Dale’s liberty. Therefore, the seizure in this case was reasonable, and the roadblock was constitutional.

Once the roadblock itself is considered constitutional, Dale’s subsequent arrest is not a problem. Upon approaching the car, Deputy Mayfield noticed the smell of alcohol coming from inside the car. There is a long line of precedent in Mississippi which holds the smell of alcohol emanating from a car is enough to provide an officer with probable cause to make an arrest. Eady v. State, 153 Miss. 691 (1929), Miller v. State, 373 So. 2d 1004 (Miss. 1979).

Once Mayfield had probable cause, then his arrest of Dale was a constitutional seizure and the results of the breathalyzer test, to which Dale consented, are not tainted. Since the evidence is not tainted, this court holds the trial court judge was correct in denying Dale’s motion to suppress this evidence.