29ASR2d04

Series: 29ASR2d | Year: () | 29ASR2d04
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[29ASR2d04]

 

 

AMERICAN SAMOA

GOVERNMENT, Plaintiff

 

v.

 

SIONE

MATA`U, Defendant.

 

District

Court of American Samoa

 

TR

#137217

 

March 16, 1994

 

[1]  A stop of a motor vehicle at a check point or

roadblock is a seizure within the meaning of the 4th Amendment. 

 

[2]  Judicial review of whether a D.U.I. roadblock

satisfies the 4th Amendment proceeds from the determination of

whether the seizure was reasonable, considering and balancing the government’s

compelling interest in protecting the motoring public from alcohol related

traffic accidents, with the individual’s constitutional right to be free from

unreasonable seizures.

 

[3]  A D.U.I. roadblock, which is brief, with low

intensity questioning, safe and uniformly conducted is a reasonable seizure,

advancing a legitimate government interest with minimal intrusion upon the

rights of the motoring public. 

 

 

Before WARD, District Court Judge.

 

Counsel:    For

Plaintiff, Falefatu Utu-Ala`ilima

                   For

Defendant, Reginald Gates

 

Opinion:

 

This matter came

on regularly before the court on 11th of March 1994, upon defendant’s motion to

suppress evidence.

 

The court heard testimony from the

arresting officer, Officer Fuifatu and his

supervisor, Inspector Mika Kelemete.  At issue was whether or not the D.U.I.

roadblocks conducted by the Department of Public Safety during the Christmas

1993, and New Years holidays were in violation of the 4th Amendment search and

seizure provisions.

 

The testimony from the police officers

may be summarized as follows:  The

Christmas day and New Years day roadblocks were publicized in [29ASR2d05]

advance in the two local newspapers of the territory.  The roadblocks were at 3 locations and conducted

from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. as ordered in writing by the

Commissioner of Public Safety.  The

locations were selected based upon public safety, marked with traffic cones,

reflectors, flashing lights and additional lighting provided by A.S.P.A.  All officers were in uniform and the

roadblocks were conducted according to written procedures.

 

Every vehicle passing the roadblock was

stopped and its driver briefly questioned by an officer.  On average, such stops took 20 seconds

each.  In those instances where the driver,

based upon the reasonable suspicion of the interviewing officer, was directed

off the roadway for subsequent investigation by other uniformed officers, that

investigation proceeded in the same fashion as a traffic stop.  Driver’s license and registration were

required to be produced and, if during that process the Officer had reasonable

grounds to proceed, field sobriety tests were conducted.  The failure of which lead to an arrest for

D.U.I.  See A.S.C.A. § 22.0707.

 

In the 1993 – 1994 holiday season, no

fatal traffic accidents related to alcohol were recorded.  The roadblocks averaged 15% of the drivers

passing through being arrested for D.U.I. In previous years, when roadblocks

were not in force, alcohol related traffic fatalities in the holiday season

totaled 3 in 1991 and 1 in 1992. 

 

Defendant contends that the 4th

Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits D.U.I. roadblocks as unreasonable,

warrantless seizures unless the government has

followed all of the procedures set forth in Michigan State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 44 (1990).  The government argues that only those

procedures necessary to demonstrate the such seizures are not unreasonable,

considering all of the circumstances, are required, and the government has met

the burden in the instant case.

 

Discussion and

Opinion

         

[1] 

It is beyond dispute that a stop of a motor vehicle at a check point or

roadblock is a seizure within the meaning of the 4th Amendment.  The precise issue for the court to decide in

such cases is whether or not the seizure is unreasonable, and therefore,

prohibited.

 

In the instant case, by either a

subjective or objective measure, the intrusion upon the freedoms of the

motoring public was slight.  Most drivers

passed through the roadblock in a brief period, the average interview taking 20

seconds.  The questioning also appeared

to be of low intensity – the officers explaining the purpose of the roadblock

and advising drivers to drive safely.[29ASR2d06]

 

Although the executive branch, not the

court, has the authority to decide between alternative law enforcement

approaches, the court notes in passing that a 15% D.U.I. offense rate of

drivers stopped at the roadblock, does provide empirical evidence in support of

the roadblock as an effective tool in promoting highway safety.

 

The D.U.I. roadblock advanced a

legitimate government interest with minimal intrusion upon the rights of the

motoring public.  Its effectiveness is

borne out by the arrest rate and the decline in alcohol-related traffic

accidents and fatalities.  The procedures

leading up to, and at the roadblock demonstrate it was safely and uniformly

conducted.

 

[2] 

Although not all of the procedures used by the Michigan State

Police, see Sitz, supra, were used in the

instant matter, there were substantial similarities in the local procedures

utilized for the D.U.I. roadblock.  The court

notes, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court did not expressly require identical

procedures be used in all roadblock or checkpoint situations.  Judicial review proceeds from the

determination of whether the seizure was reasonable, considering and balancing

the government’s compelling interest in protecting the motoring public from

alcohol related traffic accidents, with the individual’s constitutional right

to be free from unreasonable seizures.

 

[3] 

The D.U.I. roadblock conducted by the Department of Public Safety

was not prohibited by the 4th Amendment. 

Evidence obtained pursuant to this roadblock will not be suppressed

solely because it was obtained as a result of the D.U.I. roadblock.1

 

Motion denied.

 

 

 

********

 



1 

The other cases affected by this decision are:  UTC#137339 (Junior Mageo,

UTC#136889 (Susana Correia), and UTC#135723 (Tofi, Taimanini).