Roadblocks in Georgia, DUI and Drug Offenses

Roadblocks in Georgia,  DUI and Drug Offenses

Most of us have driven up to a police “check points” or “roadblocks” where we have been stopped and questioned by an officer.  There are several different reasons given by law enforcement officials for these roadblocks.  For example, some roadblocks are described as “safety checks” where the officers are looking to see if the driver and his or her passengers are wearing seatbelts.  Other roadblocks are to check the validity of the individual’s driver’s license, proof of insurance and/or proof of vehicle registration.  Regardless of the stated purpose of the detention, a police roadblock is often a “net” that allows the police to “catch” many different types of criminals.  DUI drivers, drug traffickers, drivers of stolen vehicles, and fugitives with outstanding warrants are just some of the individuals that get nabbed.

The United States Supreme Court and Georgia Courts have long upheld the validity of roadblocks as an effective crime fighting tool under certain circumstances.  The Courts have said that roadblocks that have as the primary purpose the detection of general criminal wrongdoing will not survive the scrutiny under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but others that have certain specific reasons for establishing roadblocks will pass Constitutional muster.  Some of the Court approved legitimate purposes for roadblocks include:  driver’s license checks, vehicle registration checks, sobriety checks, and the interception of illegal aliens.

Because the Courts do not like the police to stop motorists without some showing that they have committed a crime or at least a traffic violation, case law has set out certain guidelines the police must follow in order for a roadblock to be deemed “legal”.

Georgia Courts have looked to the following factors when determining if a roadblock is permissible:

  1. Was the decision to implement the roadblock made by supervisory personnel and did not have a legitimate primary purpose1?  Courts do not want individual officers to be able to set up their own roadblocks without receiving some sort of guidance and approval from their superior officers.
  2. Did the officers, in the course and execution of the roadblock, utilize random vehicle detention instead of stopping all vehicles traveling on the roadway?  The law does not want officers picking cars at random to stop.  This can lead to impermissible profiling.  There are some exceptions to this rule but generally the officers at a roadblock should stop each car.  Courts have consistently said that they don’t want “unfettered discretion granted to field officers.”2
  3. Did the roadblock cause a delay to motorists that was lengthy and unreasonable?  Case law has established that the time period of the detention must be brief.  The police may ask brief questions to obtain information relating to the reason for the roadblock but they can’t interrogate motorists about unrelated matters unless some additional evidence creates an articulable suspicion of some possible criminal activity.  For example, if the police officer approaches the vehicle to ask the driver about his or her license and smells the odor of marijuana or alcohol coming from the car, this will, more than likely, authorize the officer to extend the scope and length of the detention to investigate a possible drug violation or DUI driver.
  4. Was the roadblock operation sufficiently identified as a police checkpoint?  This means that the roadblock should be clearly marked as a roadblock with uniformed police officers in marked police vehicles.
  5. The screening officer’s training and experience were insufficient to qualify him to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be investigated further.  For example, if a roadblock is set up as a “sobriety checkpoint”, the officers manning the checkpoint must be properly trained in DUI detection.

Any person charged with a crime based on an encounter with the police at a roadblock should seek legal representation to take a closer look at the case.  As you can see from the “factors” listed above, Georgia courts will closely scrutinize the procedures used by law enforcement agencies prior to allowing the evidence obtained during the encounter to be used against the defendant at trial.

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[1] See Thomas v. State, 277 Ga. App. 88 (2005) where the Court held that the roadblock was illegal as the officer in the field conducting the roadblock lacked appropriate authority to implement the roadblock.

[2] See State v. Manos, 237 Ga. App. 699 (1999).