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CLARK V. STATE – A12A1511: Georgia Court of Appeals Classic Re-Run – Constitutional Restrictions for Roadblocks Massaged (Again)

Clark v. State (2012) – Georgia Court of Appeals

On May 30, 2010, Justin Clark was stopped at a roadblock in Polk County. The roadblock had been verbally authorized by a sergeant in the Georgia State Patrol. He testified that he implemented the roadblock to check driver’s licenses, proof of insurance, and motorist sobriety. Two GSP troopers and two Polk County officers participated in the roadblock. The participating officers testified that the roadblock was for general crime deterrence. There were two marked PCPD cars and two GSP cars on either side of the three-lane road in order to alert drivers. No signs identified the roadblock, the police vehicles did not have their emergency lights activated because it was daytime, there were no traffic cones and the Officers were not wearing reflective vests. Clark was stopped around 11:00 a.m. A trooper noticed the smell of alcohol emitting from Clark’s car and when Clark stepped out of the car another officer confirmed the scent. Clark was underage at the time and admitted to having ingested alcohol. An alco-sensor test produced a positive result. Clark was arrested for DUI and a blood test showed that his BAC was .074. He filed a motion to suppress the results of his breath and blood tests, but it was denied on the grounds that the roadblock was “well-identified as a police checkpoint for the stated and authorized purposes” of driver’s license, insurance, and registration verification, seatbelt and safety compliance, and driver impairment. Subsequently, Clark was found guilty of DUI less safe. Citing the constitutional constraints outlined in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), Clark’s primary appeal is that the purpose of the roadblock was not sufficiently clear to the officers conducting it.

Under Edmond, a roadblock is legal if the decision to implement the roadblock is made by supervisory personnel at the programmatic level, all vehicles that approach the roadblock are stopped, there is a minimal delay to motorists, the roadblock is easily identifiable, and the screening officers’ training and experience are sufficient to qualify him to make determinations about motorists’ intoxication. Also, State v. Golden, 171 Ga. App. 27 (1984) stipulates that the State has the burden of proving that a roadblock has a legitimate primary purpose other than to uncover evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.

Regarding the question of a legitimate primary purpose, Clark notes that one trooper testified that the officers were not only looking for traffic, equipment, and DUI violations but “pretty much any … violation of state law.” Citing Buell v. State, 254 Ga. App. 456, 457 (2002), the Court claims that the sergeant’s testimony and the report filed on the day of the roadblock attest to the legitimate primary purposes of DUI detection and traffic and equipment violations. In Buell, “checks for driver’s license, proof of insurance, impaired drivers, seat belts, child restraints, defective equipment, and expired tags did not render the roadblock’s purposes overbroad.” Furthermore, the Court contends, regardless if the troopers implementing the roadblock understood the legitimate primary purpose of the checkpoint, “the law only requires that some admissible evidence, whether testimonial or written, show that supervisory officers decided to implement the roadblock […] and had a legitimate primary purpose for it” Kellog v. State, 288 Ga. App. 265, 267 (2007).

At issue in Clark, as in Williams v. State (2012) previously, is the level of discretion taken by the Courts in interpreting the language of Edmond. In Williams, the Appeals Court admitted that they had not comprehensively defined what it meant for a supervisor to decide the “programmatic level”, deeming a roadblock legal that was shown to be conducted without a schedule, plan, or any written procedural guidelines or records. Citing Buell, in Clark, the Court upholds that officers in a roadblock can check for driver’s licenses, insurance, DUI, seat belts, child restraints, defective equipment, and expired tags and still have a “legitimate primary purpose,” but not be so over-broad as to function simply to uncover evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, Golden (1984). Furthermore, the requirement upheld in Kellog that only some admissible evidence must support that the restrictions of Edmond and Golden were followed undermines any appeal based on conflicting records or procedural guidelines involving roadblocks.

To amend the conclusion in our analysis of Williams, now, if a roadblock can be implemented at “the programmatic level with a legitimate primary purpose” without any written guidelines, limitations as to the number of roadblocks to be implemented per the directive, a set time constraint between the decision to conduct a roadblock and actual conducting it, a clear division between supervisor and acting field officer, limits on the relevant traffic violations to be uncovered, or the requirement of a consistent record as to procedures and purpose of the roadblock, what meaning, if any, could the terms and restrictions outlined in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond have any more?

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