Are Police Checkpoints Legal in Georgia?

A police roadblock is a recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures if it meets certain Constitutional criteria:

1. A Roadblock Must Be Implemented By an Authorized, Programmatic Level Supervisor and Not By Field Officers:

A police roadblock is constitutional provided that, among other things, the decision to implement the roadblock was made by supervisory personnel rather than officers in the field. Blackburn v. State, 256 Ga. App. 800; 570 S.E.2d 36 (2002). Moreover, the supervisory officers must have a valid primary purpose for the roadblock other than merely seeking to uncover evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Id. In establishing the lawfulness of a roadblock, the state has the burden of presenting some admissible evidence, testimonial or written, that supervisory officers decided to implement the roadblock, when and where to implement it, and had a legitimate primary purpose for it being implemented. Id. Standard Operating Procedure for a roadblock – cones, flashlights – can be evidence of authorized implementation, but if it is relied upon it must be followed in totality, otherwise the roadblock must be authorized independently of the Standard Operating Procedure.

In Harwood v. State, 262 Ga. App. 818, 821 (2003), the Court did not require that a roadblock comply with the standard operating procedure only because a Sergeant’s authority for the roadblock was based upon verbal authority from his supervisor. In Dymond v. State, 248 Ga. App. 582, 584(2001), the Court was dealing with a discrepancy involving procedure outlined in an employee handbook, but not standing operating procedure. The Dymond Court found that since the employee manual did not set forth “our standard operating procedure,” a discrepancy in procedure outlined in the employee manual did not necessarily make the roadblock illegal.  Finally, although State v. Sherrill, 247 Ga. App. 708, 712 (2001) found Standard Operating Procedures not required to be followed, it has been expressly overruled and the Standard Operating Procedure was not cited as the basis for the officer’s authority to implement the roadblock.

A roadblock must be conducted pursuant to a plan devised by supervisory personnel and not by officers in the field using their unfettered discretion.  Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001).

2. Who is an Authorized Supervisor?

A supervisor has been defined as in Ross v. State, 257 Ga. App. 541(2002), as a Lieutenant in the field at the time the roadblocks in issue were established, not as a field officer participating in the roadblocks, but as the supervisor on the scene. In this instance, the Lieutenant supervised the Traffic Unit of the Clayton County Police Department as its officer-in-charge, supervising six full-time traffic officers and, on a part-time basis, five officers assigned to the DUI task force. The Chief of Police authorized him to order roadblocks as a supervisor; and he ordered the roadblocks, determining where and when they would occur and that the officers who executed the roadblocks had not participated in the decision to do so. In Harwood v. State, 262 Ga. App. 818 (2003), the Court of Appeals found that the Sergeant who implemented the roadblock was a supervisor at the programmatic level as he was, as a sergeant, the supervisor of the department’s traffic enforcement unit; and that his authority to implement roadblocks came from the department’s policy manual and from his supervisor, who had delegated the task to him; and he did not participate in the roadblock.

Because this is only a first tier, consensual encounter, you are under no obligation to speak with the police officer. Similarly, you are under no obligation to let the officer search your vehicle. However, if you feel compelled to speak with the officer based on his conduct and mannerisms, or the content and tone of his questioning, what may have begun as a consensual encounter is now an investigatory stop.

3. What is a Legitimate Primary Purpose for a Legal Roadblock?

Permissible primary purposes are those which serve “special needs, beyond the normal need[s of] law enforcement,” and include elimination of immediate, vehicle-bound threats to life and limb, e.g., sobriety checkpoints and driver’s license examination, border patrol checks near borders, and emergencies such as “an appropriately tailored roadblock set up to thwart an imminent terrorist attack or to catch a dangerous criminal who is likely to flee by way of a particular route.” Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001). The purpose in the minds of the officers in the field, as evidenced by their testimony or their actual conduct at the roadblock, is not conclusive on the threshold issue of the supervisor’s purpose. Id. Neither “collective knowledge” of the field officers nor the actions of the officers on the scene are competent evidence of purpose at the “programmatic level.” Id. At 702. The phrase “decision to implement” includes deciding to have a roadblock, and where and when to have it. Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695, 702 (1) (556 S.E.2d 892) (2001).The Baker Court overruled the following decisions: State v. Sherrill, 247 Ga. App. 708, 710 (2) (545 S.E.2d 110) (2001) (witness had “no personal knowledge of the supervising officer who actually authorized the roadblock, and the State was unable to come forward with this information at the hearing”); Boyce v. State, 240 Ga. App. 388 (523 S.E.2d 607) (1999) (field officer decided); Albert v. State, 236 Ga. App. 146. 147 (1) (511 S.E.2d 244) (1999) (although roadblock was established “pursuant to departmental policy,” decision to implement this roadblock made by field officers); Payne v. State, 232 Ga. App. 591 (502 S.E.2d 526) (1998) (witness did not know which supervisor made decision; no evidence of supervisor’s primary purpose); Heimlich v. State, 231 Ga. App. 662, 500 S.E.2d 388 (1998)(supervisor issued “standing order” permitting; field officers decided time and place); Mims v. State, 201 Ga. App. 277 (410 S.E.2d 824) (1991); and Evans v. State, 190 Ga. App. 856 (380 S.E.2d 332) (1989).

4. Other Roadblock Requirements:

All vehicles must be stopped as opposed to random stops and the delay to motorists must be minimal. The roadblock operation must be well-identified as a police checkpoint, and the screening officer’s training and experience must be sufficient to qualify him to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be given field sobriety tests for intoxication. See Thomas v. State, 277 Ga. App. 88; 625 S.E.2d 455 (2005). These factors are not general guidelines, but are minimum constitutional prerequisites. Unless the roadblock meets all of these Constitutional prerequisites, it violates the Defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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