Tuesday, April 05, 2011

OUI Appeal - Maine Roadblock Stop Unreasonable

This case comes to DAD through the watchful eyes of NCDD Maine Attorney Wayne Foote. In State of Maine v. Kent, --- A.3d ----, 2011 WL 1120102 (Me.), 2011 ME 42, the defendant was arrested for OUI following a roadblock stop. he challenged the roadblock through the filing of a Motion to Suppress. At a hearing on a motion to suppress, Maine law holds that the State bears the burden of demonstrating that the execution of a roadblock stop by police officers was reasonable pursuant to the Fourth Amendment. The trial court held that the roadblock was lawful, and the defendant was eventually convicted.
The written standard operating procedures (SOPs), established by the Chief of the Auburn Police Department, applied to the operation of the roadblock. The SOPs provide in relevant parts:

The Chief of the Auburn Police Department shall approve any requests to hold a sobriety checkpoint.
The location of a sobriety checkpoint shall be chosen after consideration of [several factors related to safety and efficiency and the frequency and location of prior OUI related accidents and arrests].
The public shall be notified via the media of any plan to hold a sobriety checkpoint at least 24 hours prior to holding the checkpoint.
A minimum of one supervisor and six patrolmen will be used at all sobriety checkpoints.
All vehicles passing through the sobriety checkpoint shall be stopped. Only when backed up traffic becomes a hazard will vehicles be allowed through without being checked, and in this case all vehicles will be let through until there is no longer a hazard.
Each operator will be given a message card and will be spoken to only briefly. If there is no reason to believe a violation is occurring, then the vehicle will be allowed to continue without further delay.
On appeal, Kent argued that the seizure of her person at the roadblock stop was constitutionally unreasonable because the State did not establish that, as required by the SOPs, (1) the roadblock was approved by the Chief of Police; (2) a supervisor was present at the roadblock; and (3) all vehicles passing through the roadblock were stopped. Admitting that there were deficiencies, the State nevertheless replied that not all violations of these procedures should cause a roadblock to be declared unlawful or an arrest to be suppressed. The Supreme Court found the deficiencies constitutionally defective:

"In this case, the State did not establish that there was any leadership or accountability in the design, approval, and execution of the roadblock. Although Sergeant Bryant testified that he had participated in the six or seven previous roadblocks that were set up in the same location and in the same manner, there was no direct evidence that the roadblock's location was chosen according to the criteria set forth in the SOPs. Nor did the State establish that the Chief of the Auburn Police Department or any other authority approved a request to conduct any of these roadblocks or that the public was notified in advance of this roadblock. With respect to supervision of the roadblock, Sergeant Bryant did not testify about who supervised the roadblock or whether a supervisor was even present.

Reviewing the other Cloukey factors, the average length of time that motorists were detained at this roadblock is notable. One SOP provides, “Each operator will be given a message card and will be spoken to only briefly.” However, at this roadblock, motorists without violations were detained an average of three to five minutes. Compared to the average time of detentions in cases where roadblocks were deemed reasonable, the length of these seizures suggests more than a minimal intrusion of a motorist's liberty interest. See Bjorkaryd–Bradbury, 2002 ME 44, ¶ 3, 792 A.2d at 1083 (safety checks lasting “only a couple of minutes”); Patterson, 582 A.2d at 1206 (safety checks taking “only 1 1/2 to 2 minutes”); State v. Babcock, 559 A.2d 337, 337 (Me.1989) (OUI detentions lasting one to two minutes); McMahon, 557 A.2d at 1325 (safety and OUI detentions lasting “one to two minutes”); Leighton, 551 A.2d at 117 (OUI stops lasting “under a minute”); Cloukey, 486 A.2d at 144 (conducting thirty safety checks in one-half hour); Michigan Dep't of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 448, 110 S.Ct. 2481, 110 L.Ed.2d 412 (1990) (sobriety checkpoint stops lasting an average of twenty-five seconds)."

NOTE: The decision points out that it should be the State's responsibility to establish the validity of the roadblock - not vice versa. Further, the lenght of delay should be explored in every case, as it is not uncommon for cops to apparently hold persons 'hostage' for longer and longer each time they rune one of these events...

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