A stop of a motor vehicle at a check point or
roadblock is a seizure within the meaning of the 4th Amendment.
 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
 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.
Plaintiff, Falefatu Utu-Ala`ilima
Defendant, Reginald Gates
This matter came
on regularly before the court on 11th of March 1994, upon defendant’s motion to
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
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 to 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.
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,
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
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.
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
The other cases affected by this decision are: UTC#137339 (Junior Mageo,
UTC#136889 (Susana Correia), and UTC#135723 (Tofi, Taimanini).