Under most circumstances, a law enforcement officer cannot just perform a traffic stop on a vehicle. The officer must have what is called “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a crime or traffic violation (such as DUI) has occurred or is occurring.
After a traffic stop is made, the Fourth Amendment protects our people from unreasonable search and seizures.
Most DUI and drug cases begin with the traffic stop. Common traffic stops begin with an investigation for speeding, swerving, or running a stop sign. From there, more serious investigations can ensure.
While the law governing traffic stops, searches, and seizures surrounding automobile cases seems to be logical from a Constitutional standpoint, the institution and administration of police roadblocks defies that logic.
But, most roadblocks are legal. Why?
Appellate courts, particularly the United States Supreme Court, have carved out an exception for the roadblock.
Beginning in the 1970’s, law enforcement agencies began to implement roadblocks on a more frequent basis. Thus, challenges to these roadblocks sprang up throughout the country and in the courts.
Over the years, a fairly solid set of rules have developed regarding the implementation of roadblocks.
1. Roadblocks which have as a primary purpose of the detection of general criminal wrongdoing are illegal. However, in general, roadblocks set up for the purpose of intercepting illegal aliens, sobriety checkpoints, verification of driver licenses and vehicle registration, and emergency checkpoints (like catching a dangerous criminal in the area) have been deemed legal by the courts. The decision to implement these roadblocks must be made by a supervising officer rather than field officers;
2. All vehicles must be stopped opposed to random stops;
3. The delay to motorists must be minimal;
4. The roadblock must be well identified as a police checkpoint; and
5. The screening officer’s training and experience must be sufficient to qualify him or her to make an initial determination as to which motorists would be offered (these can be refused by the motorist) field tests for intoxication.
The bottom line is that if law enforcement agencies follow these rules, the roadblock will be deemed legal.
When encountering a roadblock, be cooperative with the field officers. They are following the instructions of their supervisor and doing their job.
Do not try to turn around, turn off on side roads, or otherwise try to avoid a roadblock. These actions will often lead to serious criminal charges.
To make an encounter with a roadblock as easy as possible, be responsible by not drinking and driving. If you are with a group of people who have been drinking, partying, celebrating, etc., make sure that one person is deemed to be the designated sober driver. This will save lives, avoid arrests, and make our roads safer.
Also, make sure that your registration and driver’s license are valid.
Lastly, do not possess anything illegal or ride with anyone who you suspect may have something illegal in the vehicle. (The best rule of thumb is to never possess anything illegal).
While I do not believe that the Fourth Amendment allows the implementation of any type of roadblock except in the case of an emergency, roadblocks are here to stay in Georgia and the other 49 states.
Always be responsible on the highways and roads of our state.