Friday, September 30, 2011

CCA Reverses Suppression of Evidence from DUI Checkpoint

by OfficerGreg

The state appealed a ruling by Judge Robert Lee Holloway, Jr. granting Charles Vires motion to supress evidence obtained during a DUI traffic checkpoint. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed.  The issue is whether the police provided sufficient advance notice of the checkpoint.

The trial court found that the checkpoint was not conducted in accordance with the predetermined guidelines listed in General Order 410-1 because the public did not receive advance notice of the general location of the checkpoint or the approximate time it would be conducted. The trial court concluded that the failure of the advance notice to comply with the law rendered the checkpoint an unreasonable seizure under the Tennessee Constitution and granted the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained at the checkpoint.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court’s finding that the advance notice of the checkpoint did not comply with the statute because it did not list the general location of the checkpoint or the approximate time it would be conducted. They disagreed, however, that this factor rendered the checkpoint an unconstitutional seizure. The insufficient advance notice--the court noted--"weighs against the overall reasonableness of the checkpoint, but it does not necessarily invalidate the checkpoint." Publicity is a factor to be considered when assessing the reasonableness of a roadblock but is not alone dispositive of the issue. The Court held that the trial court erred by not considering all relevant factors in determining the overall reasonableness of the checkpoint and whether the checkpoint was conducted in accordance with the mandatory requirements.

There are four factors the court looks at when assessing a DUI road block.
(1) stopping all cars traveling in both directions, unless congested traffic requires permitting motorists to pass through;
(2) taking adequate safety precautions, such as warning approaching motorists of the roadblock and stopping cars only in a safe and visible area;
(3) conducting the roadblock with uniformed officers and marked patrol cars with flashing emergency lights; and
(4) providing advanced publicity of the roadblock to the public at large, separate from, and in addition to, any notice warnings given to approaching motorists.

Lastly came the court's warning:
"We caution that our holding does not condone the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s failure to provide sufficient advance notice in compliance with its own guidelines. If incidents of insufficient advance notice continue to occur, the circumstances may render a checkpoint invalid and justify exclusion of evidence."

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