A Concord District Court judge recently agreed with Attorney Chris Spring that the sobriety roadblock regulations used to stop and seize his client were unconstitutional. Therefore, it was unlawful for the police to pull over Attorney Spring’s client and all of the evidence against him will be suppressed. Unless the Commonwealth appeals the judge’s ruling (and the Appeals Court reverses the decision), the case will need to be dismissed.
In May of 2016, the Concord Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police joined forces to conduct a sobriety checkpoint on Route 2 in Concord. A sobriety checkpoint is a procedure where members of a police department randomly stop cars that are driving down the street to ensure the drivers are sober. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled sobriety checkpoints are in compliance with the federal and state constitutions, but only if the checkpoints are conducted pursuant to a detailed operations plan. There are potential constitutional problems all over the place when cops perform a sobriety checkpoint, because the police are permitted to stop cars without probable cause (or even reasonable suspicion) that the drivers are committing a crime. Therefore, the operations plans are required to be detailed and specific about how the officers conduct themselves (so as to reduce or eliminate the officers’ use of discretion).
In this case, Attorney Spring’s client approached the checkpoint at a little before one o’clock in the morning. A trooper stopped his car and spoke to him. The trooper noted that Attorney Spring’s client had glassy eyes and smelled like alcohol. There was an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment. The trooper also noted in his report that Attorney Spring’s client admitted he had consumed alcohol. The trooper ordered him to drive into a secondary screening area. Attorney Spring’s client failed a series of field sobriety tests and blew over the legal limit on the Breathalyzer machine. He was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol.
Attorney Spring filed a motion to suppress his client’s stop along with all of the evidence (including statements, performance on the field sobriety tests, and failure of the Breathalyzer) that was collected as a result. A copy of the motion can be read here. Attorney Spring argued that there was insufficient guidance contained within the operations plan to advise the officers if and when they were permitted to ask motorists about their alcohol consumption. In previous versions of operations plan used by the police during sobriety checkpoints, the officers were told specifically when they could ask motorists if they had be drinking (for example, they could only ask if they first smelled an odor of an alcoholic beverage or they could only ask in the secondary screening area). In this case, because the officers were not told when they were allowed to ask the drivers if they had been drinking, they (the officers) were left to decide on their own when to make inquiry about alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that officers are not allowed such broad discretion in the context of roadblock cases. Therefore, the operations plan here is too vague to satisfy constitutional muster and the entire roadblock procedure was tainted. As a result, the defendant’s case will need to be dismissed (along with any other driver who was nabbed in the roadblock whose attorney filed a motion to suppress).
If you are charged with a crime, you should immediately consult with a criminal defense lawyer even if it seems like the evidence against you is strong. Experienced attorneys may be able to help you beat the case.