Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms Sobriety Checkpoint Stop, Despite Police Errors

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today determined that a motorist had been properly stopped pursuant to a sobriety roadblock, despite the fact that several of the police officers had not performed their duties pursuant to the operations plan.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Baker

A saturation patrol and sobriety checkpoint was jointly conducted by the Massachusetts State Police and the Abington Police Department.  The roadblock in question started at 11:30 p.m. and all officers involved in the roadblock were instructed to report ahead of time.  Instead, three of the cops showed up after the roadblock had already started.  As the defendant drove up to the roadblock, a sergeant witnessed symptoms of alcohol intoxication and ordered him to drive into the “pit” area, which the defendant refused to do.  He was then administered a series of field sobriety tests by an Abington officer.  When the officer concluded he failed the tests, he arrested the defendant and charged him with operating under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.  At the end of the roadblock, all of the Abington officers and four of the state troopers failed to submit officer activity reports as required by the roadblock operations plan.  One of the officers who had worked at the roadblock did not sign the duty roster confirming he had reviewed the operations plan.  The defendant filed a motion to suppress his stop, arguing the police had not strictly followed the operations plan that governed the execution of the roadblock.  A district court judge ruled there were four deviations from the operations plan: (1) several officers arrived late; (2) a supervising captain was not performing his supervisory duties when he was briefing the late officers; (3) one of the troopers (not involved in the defendant’s stop) did not sign the duty roster; and (4) at the end of the roadblock, several officers did not submit reports as required by the operations plan.  The district court judge allowed the defendant’s motion to suppress the stop and the Commonwealth appealed.  The Appeals Court reversed.

Motor vehicle stops conducted pursuant to sobriety checkpoints are required to adhere to the very specific operations plans established beforehand.  Checkpoints are one of the few situations where a police officer can stop and interrogate a motorist without having probable cause or reasonable suspicion that the motorist is committing a crime or a motor vehicle infraction.  Attorney Spring has successfully filed motions to suppress roadblock stops when the cops have not followed the rules laid out by the Supreme Judicial Court.  In this case, while acknowledging the cops did not scrupulously follow the roadblock guidelines, the Appeals Court concluded any deviations failed to invalidate the constitutionality of the roadblock.  The Court pointed out that the officers who interacted with the defendant were not late, and the trooper who failed to sign the duty roster was not involved in the defendant’s arrest.  Further, the administration of the roadblock regulations were not impacted by the failure of several cops to complete officer activity reports at the end of their shifts.  Accordingly, the stop and seizure of the defendant was not unconstitutional.

If you have been charged with operating under the influence of alcohol after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, you should immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.  If the police officers made mistakes in the administration of the roadblock, you may be able to challenge your arrest in court.