By: William C. Head, Criminal Defense Attorney Atlanta GA and ABA Board-Certified DUI Attorney
Are police roadblocks legal? If I want my DUI case dismissed, will hiring a criminal defense attorney to challenge the DUI checkpoint in my case be successful? If the check point is unconstitutional, are the DUI charges dropped? Can a skilled DUI attorney get the DUI dismissed? If I fight my roadblock case, does my DUI lawyer know how to get a DUI dismissed?
Because a random Georgia driver license check is essentially a “search and seizure” without any knowledge of a traffic violation or reasonable belief of any crime being committed, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that the police prove that a such roadblocks are not an unreasonable search and seizure. No other type of DUI case offers more legal challenges for getting DUI dismissed that a roadblock case. So, not hiring the best DUI lawyer to try to get a DUI dropped or a DUI dismissed or reduced is a boneheaded decision.
Your Georgia DUI lawyer must be fully knowledgeable about the four key U.S. Supreme Court decisions on DUI check points, and the 15 critical Georgia appellate court decisions that control every safety checkpoint location in Georgia.
Delaware v. Prouse (1967) – DUI roadblocks or sobriety checkpoints are a valid alternative to random vehicle stops.
Michigan v. Sitz (1990) – DUI roadblocks are not an efficient use of police personnel (far less effective than roving police patrol cars), but as long as highly-trained checkpoint supervisors and screening officers are utilizing a plan to stop all vehicles at a well-marked, safe location pursuant to a carefully planned implementation, the Fourth Amendment is not being violated.
City of Indianapolis v. Edmond (2000) – In this case, police checkpoints were being used to interdict drug couriers by way of random roadblocks were disapproved by the U.S. Supreme Court. So, a random road block that focuses on public driving safety is constitutional, but check points seeking to stop drug trafficking is unconstitutional.
Illinois v. Lidster (2004) – Where police at a roadblock are looking for an individual suspected of committing a serious felony offense, and they establish a “dangerous felon” roadblock in a suspected geographic location of the felony suspect (which is not a DUI checkpoint) in a focused, limited geographic area, the coincidence that a drunk driver is “detected” at such a checkpoint for a different purpose does not make the random stop of a DUI suspect’s vehicle unconstitutional.
Random police stops in Georgia have only become the subject of dozens of appeals over the last 60 years. These cases offer the best chance for getting DUI cases dismissed. The following descriptions of key DUI roadblock cases will help explain checkpoint laws, if your Georgia traffic arrest was made at a checkpoint location:
Conner v. State (1973) – First Georgia DUI checkpoint case that followed a federal Fifth Circuit case (Myricks v. U.S.) from 1967, approving impaired driver checkpoint stops of vehicles. (GA Court of Appeals)
Christopher v. State (1991) – This case established that a properly established and supervised checkpoint, which was staffed by experienced impaired driving enforcement officers, must be implemented in a reasonable manner. (Georgia Court of Appeals)
State v. Golden (1984) – Set forth a list of factors (for example, all vehicles must be stopped) essential to a proper DUI roadblock to meet the reasonableness test and the constitutionality test. Another criterion set forth by Golden was whether the delay to motorists was minimal. (GA Court of Appeals)
Evans v. State (1989) – The gist of this case was that a court will look at the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether drunk driving check points are constitutional. (Court of Appeals).
Blackburn v. State (2002) – For a drunk driving checkpoint to be legitimate and constitutional, the State (prosecutor) must prove that supervisory officers approved of the checkpoint location and screening protocols. (Court of Appeals).
LaFontaine v. State (1998) – This was an appeal handled by Atlanta DUI lawyer William C. Head. By a 4-3 vote, the Georgia Supreme Court erroneously upheld a two-officer, impromptu Georgia State Patrol roadblock that later would have been determined to be illegal, if the U.S. Supreme Court had already decided City of Indianapolis v. Edmond (2000).
The more extensive guidelines established by Edmond mandating decision-making by supervisory personnel at the “programmatic level” subsequently clarified an issue that was hotly disputed in LaFontaine. Two 2013 Georgia cases, Williams and Brown, corrected this erroneous prior ruling. The LaFontaine case did clarify these 5 mandatory drunk driving checkpoint requirements:
In State v. Morgan (2004), a GA drivers license checkpoint approved for one date could not be “extended” by officers to the next day. The written drunk driving checkpoint document was the controlling legal point, and not officers claiming that they were told that the GA license check roadblocks were approved for two days. The Fourth Amendment requires strict construction against the government on issues of supervisory approval. (Georgia Court of Appeals)
Where a shift commander decided to implement a roadblock without checking with the police chief, this DUI checkpoint violated the Fourth Amendment. Thomas v. State (2005) (Georgia Court of Appeals). An earlier unanimous Court of Appeals decision, Baker v. State (2001), established a strict compliance rule for the “decision” being required to be made by supervisory personnel at drunk driving check points. (GA Court of Appeals)
In 1993, the case of Jorgensen v. State dealt with a turn by a vehicle into an apartment complex shortly before the driver reached the DUI checkpoint. A subsequent “chase” car was sent by police. Jorgensen explained that he was going to visit a friend, and was not evading the roadblock. The police had no evidence to the contrary.
The illegal seizure and detention of this driver, who committed no traffic offense, led to Mr. Jorgensen’s drunk driving arrest being dismissed for a Fourth Amendment violation (Georgia Court of Appeals).
After this case, police in Georgia have learned to select a police checkpoint location that has no alternative turnoff streets or driveways to permit a motorist from escaping.
State v. Swift (1974) was an early case that approved of police establishing a “safety checkpoint” to ask drivers for their driver’s license, proof of vehicle inspection, registration, plus be on the lookout for “fugitives and runaways.” The lower court ruled that this was not constitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court overturned it, but the drunk driving checkpoint rulings made in parts of this decision have been determined to be bad law, after City of Indianapolis v. Edmond and Illinois v. Lidster. (Georgia Supreme Court)
The driver in State v. Hester (2004) saw blue lights ahead and decided to make a U-turn to avoid being delayed. A chase car was sent to pull over Hester, and he was arrested for DUI. The trial judge ruled that the maneuver by Hester to turn around prior to the sobriety checkpoint location was a “legal” turnaround. Hence, the chase down and subsequent arrest was a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV (Georgia Court of Appeals).
Testimony at a pre-trial motion hearing on DUI check points can be the government’s Achilles heel. In State v. Ayers (2002), another drunk driving roadblock case (in Doraville, GA) handled by DUI lawyer Atlanta William C. Head, the supervisory officer (Sgt. McElroy) testified that he approved the check point for the “primary purpose” of checking the driver’s license. However, the arresting officer’s sworn testimony indicated that the road block purpose was “general law enforcement” and not merely to enforce Georgia DUI laws. Both the trial judge and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that this violated the Fourth Amendment (GA Court of Appeals).
The Prosecutor appealed, because several other citizens represented by Mr. Head and other DUI law firms were also stopped at this same Doraville Police Department check point, and all of those drunk driving arrests were later thrown out, due to DUI check points with improper purposes being illegal.
In Brown v. State (2013), the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed a Court of Appeal reversal of the trial judge’s ruling (based upon non-compliance with City of Indianapolis v. Edmond) that in every drunk driving checkpoint a “traffic safety” primary purpose must be shown (e.g. license checks, sobriety checkpoint, seat belt use, and proof of insurance), PLUS to clarify that decisions of when and where to implement DUI checkpoints must adhere to a written, published set of protocols.
This opinion pointed out that its decision in LaFontaine was wrong, due to the fact that the sergeant in the field calling for a two-officer road check violated City of Indianapolis v. Edmond. So, all law enforcement agencies must have an existing set of written and published “protocols” and follow a proper “chain of command,” rather than just spontaneously setting up a roadblock. The Brown court also disapproved of the Baker v. State opinion from 2001, holding that the Edmond and LaFontaine factors do not end full Fourth Amendment analysis of issues such as arbitrariness of DUI checkpoint locations, or the roadblock being used for a pre-textual reason. (Georgia Supreme Court)
A companion case to Brown v. State was Williams v. State, which dealt with a Bibb County police sergeant doing the same thing that had been done by a Georgia State trooper sergeant in LaFontaine. A review of the roadblock’s written policy from Bibb County showed that the written protocols were BROADER than mere traffic safety issues (license check, seat belt use, sobriety screening), and were not in compliance with Fourth Amendment analysis. These written protocols doomed all similar random police safety checks, where police departments had not updated their written rules for implementing roadblocks following the Edmond case. (GA Supreme Court)
Following the rulings in these important cases, Mr. Head was hired by a mother of three who was stopped on July 4th, 2014 by Johns Creek, GA police. Despite a breath alcohol reading that was almost three times the legal limit, this case had to be dismissed, after the Fulton County State Court judge failed to follow the holdings of the Brown and Williams cases. (Armentrout v. State, 2015) Each road block arrest during that Holiday weekend, as a result of defective police procedures, could have been won by a DUI attorney filing motions to declare DUI checkpoints unconstitutional, as operated by Johns Creek police.
The Government Has Burden of Proof (Once a DUI Checkpoint Suppression Motion Is Filed by a DUI Lawyer)
When presented with a Fourth Amendment motion to suppress, a trial judge cannot simply “assume” that a police department’s written guidelines were adequate and complete. In a case handled by William C. Head, the State (prosecution) had this burden to bring the pre-existing written protocols, and have a supervisory officer testify to issues relating to whether these “programmatic level” guidelines had been in place BEFORE the DUI checkpoint was established.
A failure of the government to affirmatively prove this means that the roadblock fails. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens and mandates that the State either proves their compliance with LaFontaine, Edmond, Brown and Williams, or loses the driving while intoxicated check point suppression motion. Armentrout v. State (2015). (Georgia Court of Appeals)
A drunk driving conviction can devastate a career. But, when no accident or bad driving was observed, DUI checkpoint arrests rely entirely on the constitutionality of the roadblock. For experienced DUI attorneys, like our Super Lawyers for 2017, law partners William “Bubba” Head, Larry Kohn and Cory Yager, finding flaws in police protocols is how to get a DUI dismissed.
When a person is arrested at a police checkpoint, using pretrial motions to have your DUI case dismissed is the #1 objective of our law firm. In the alternative, if a DUI lawyer with our DUI law firm files other motions to suppress (eliminate) the breathalyzer test, an Order suppressing the breath alcohol test permits either getting DUI charges dropped, or the DUI reduced to reckless driving, in most cases. Contact our 24-hour lawyers, because we go anywhere in GA. CALL 404-567-5515. Checkpoints can be set up by police any city or county in Georgia. Call William Head or Larry Kohn or Cory Yager for legal help.
After being arrested for DUI in Georgia, the first thing to do it identify an expert on Georgia DUI law through top attorney ratings. Look at who is BEHIND the law firm, review each of the trial lawyers’ credentials, and check out the criminal defense attorney who leads the law office. Every experienced DUI lawyer in the law firm must have full command of DUI laws and possess training in all aspects of successfully challenging the driving under the influence criminal case.
This successful defense record must include suppressing breath alcohol tests, and knowing every prior appellate decision on the Georgia implied consent law. An increasing number of drugged driving cases require that our criminal defense lawyers know how to challenge a GBI blood alcohol or drugs test. Being an INSTRUCTOR in the three NHTSA standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) is also necessary.
The best DUI attorneys in Atlanta, Georgia will offer you a FREE consultation, explain how their criminal attorneys search for a successful defense in your case, and aggressively represent clients to the maximum extent the law allows. Limit your search to DUI lawyers who have legitimate lawyer ratings and a history of proven results on knowing how to beat a DUI. If we are the criminal defense attorneys for you, ask us about our attorney payment plans.
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