Allowing police to set up roadblocks where they stop everyone at an intersection runs against the American grain.
After all, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. That is why, in allowing roadblocks under certain circumstances, the courts have been careful to require clear guidelines for when such wholesale stops can used.
In this post, we will use a Q & A format to answer the question of when such stops are allowed in Kentucky.
Has the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on roadblocks?
Yes, but not recently.
In a 1990 case, Michigan Dep't of State Police v. Sitz, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a program of highway sobriety checkpoints was reasonable under the Constitution.
The Court's majority focused on the fact that the state has a strong interest in getting drunk drivers off the roads. The majority also asserted that a delay of less than a minute at a mandatory roadblock is not a big inconvenience.
Balancing the state interest and the individual interest, the majority concluded that the Michigan checkpoint program was permissible.
A dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens struck the balance differently. Justice Stevens argued that even a 25-second stop is not merely a minor inconvenience. This is because citizens have a strong liberty interest in being free from seizures that lack any basis in individualized suspicion.
What about the Kentucky Supreme Court?
The Kentucky Supreme Court issued its first important ruling on the legality of checkpoints in 2003. The case was called Commonwealth v. Buchanon.
Buchanon laid out guidelines for law enforcement to follow to have valid DUI checkpoints in Kentucky. These guidelines generally require four things.
First, the time, manner and location for checkpoints should be decided by supervisory-level law enforcement officials, not field officers.
Second, each motorist who is stopped should be treated in the same manner.
Third, the checkpoint should be readily visible to oncoming motorists. And finally, the length of the stop should not be excessively long.
How are these guidelines working in practice?
A recent Kentucky Supreme Court case served as a reminder that the guidelines really do place limits on the when use of DUI checkpoints in Kentucky.
The case was Commonwealth v. Cox, decided on December 17 of last year.
The Kentucky Supreme Court found that the Kentucky State Police had not followed the correct procedures to have a valid DUI roadblock. The court therefore upheld a reversal of the man's conviction for second-offense DUI.
In its reasoning, the court noted several points of noncompliance with the guidelines for valid checkpoints. These included the lack of media announcements about roadblocks and the absence of signs on the road that a DUI checkpoint was coming up.
The Cox decision shows that the Fourth Amendment is alive and well in Kentucky. If you are facing DUI charges of any type, however, it's important to take strong legal action to protect your rights.