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Spragins v. State – when is a one man roadblock legal

Spragins v. State, A13A0941, November 20, 2013. John Spragins has stopped a roadblock in Coweta County and was arrested for DUI.  He appeals arguing that the roadblock was illegal in that vehicles were waived through because there was only one officer available to check them. A Lieutenant verbally instructed officers to conduct a DUI roadblock at the end of their shift from 11 pm to 2 am or until they got tired of it, too busy or it was unsafe. A roadblock approval form was filled out two days after the roadblock.  Defendant argued that Officers had unfettered discretion to start and stop the roadblock and so it was illegal under the 4th Amendment exception for DUI roadblocks. A roadblock is legal where the decision to implement the roadblock is made by supervisory personnel rather than officers in the field; all vehicles are stopped as opposed to random vehicle stops; the delay to motorists is minimal; the roadblock operation is well identified as a police checkpoint, and the screening officers have sufficient training and experience to make an initial determination as to whether DUI field tests should be used. See, LaFontaine v. State, 269 Ga. 251 (1998).  The trial court found that field officers can have the discretion to start and stop the roadblock based on traffic and lack of manpower.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that absent some policy defining options to supervisory personnel or to limit the discretion of field officers that the Officer unfettered discretion to start and stop the roadblock is illegal. State v. Manos, 237 Ga. App. 699 (1999).  The Court of Appeals found that a verbal policy of “got tired of holding it or they got busy or it was unsafe to work it..they could end the roadblock” was a sufficient limitation of field officer discretion. However, it should be noted that “verbal policy” was to end the roadblock and not to temporarily or randomly suspend the roadblock and allow cars to pass unchecked. Further, when the cars were allowed to pass, the Officer had another car stopped in what amounted to a one-man roadblock. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the Newnan Trial Court to determine if the roadblock satisfied the Constitutional requirements of that Georgia Supreme Court laid out in Brown v. State.  One requirement is was it sufficiently planned with adequate manpower and a lack of manpower demonstrates an absence of planning.

-Author: George C. Creal, Jr.