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Atlanta Police Chief admits at least 5000 Atlanta area roadblocks were illegal without realizing it

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner admitted to using unconstitutional roadblocks for general crime deterrence at a Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community forum last week.  The Atlanta Police Chief’s dialogue went as follows:

“When you look at where we place roadblocks, and the crime patterns in our community, you’ll see roadblocks in that area,” Turner said.

Turner: “So it’s a strategy, one of the many strategies that we use to fight crime in the community.

Grossman “To fight crime in general, including robberies, thefts ?”

Turner: “Robberies, yes, to fight crime throughout the entire community.”

Grossman: “Would that include drugs as well?”

Turner: “Sure.”

The United States Supreme Court has made clear that a roadblock/checkpoint contravenes the Fourth Amendment if it is established for the primary purpose of detecting evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, such as illegal drug activities. City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 41-42(III), 121 S.Ct. 447, 148 L.Ed.2d 333 (2000). Rather, that Court has limited the grounds under which a roadblock may be authorized to those where there are “`special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement.'” Id. at 37(II), 121 S.Ct. 447 (see list therein). Although two permissible programmatic purposes of a roadblock are verifying drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations, 770*770, and sobriety enforcement, just mentioning a license or sobriety checkpoint is not sufficient to legitimize a plan that has as its aim ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Id. at 38-39(II) and 46-47(III), 121 S.Ct. 447. The Supreme Court has explained that in looking to the programmatic purpose, “we consider all the available evidence to determine the relevant primary purpose.” Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67, 81(III), 121 S.Ct. 1281, 149 L.Ed.2d 205 (2001).

In fact, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed this very issue in State v. Morgan, 267 Ga.App. 728, 600 S.E.2d 767 (2004) wherein a roadblock was held illegal when searching for drugs.  Generally, the only Constitutional roadblocks are those in which there are special needs like license checks, seatbelt enforcement, and DUI roadblocks. Chief Turner can expect to be receiving some subpoenas for the next few years.