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DUI Roadblocks in Maryland

The 4th Amendment to the United State’s Constitution says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated…” This amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, made applicable to the individual states through the 14th amendment Due Process clause as established by the Supreme Court in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), says that citizens shall not be stopped in their cars, or otherwise without probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has been committed. This law was upheld by the Supreme Court in Delaware v. Prouse where the Supreme Court held the 4th Amendment right to privacy outweighed the states desire to stop cars to check driver’s licenses and registration cards.

However, the Supreme Court modified its position in the decision of Michigan v. Sitz where it held that the prohibition of stopping an automobile in the absence of probable cause was outweighed by the desire to eradicate drunk driving on our streets. The Justices voted 6-3 in favor of allowing the “DUI Exception” to the Delaware v. Prouse opinion.

Maryland has also visited this particular issue in the case of Little v. State 479 A.2d 903 (1983). The Court ruled that roadblocks were legal in Maryland because of the State’s important need to stop drunk driver’s on Maryland streets; however, the Court did recognize certain procedural requirements that must be satisfied in order to make a roadblock lawful. If a roadblock fails to meet procedural requirements, then the resulting arrest is illegal and the case will be won or dismissed in Court, such is what happened to my client this week in Baltimore County District Court. Case dismissed, details follow….

Pursuant to Little v. State, in order for a roadblock to be procedurally lawful, the following requirements must be met in order to establish “reasonableness” of the stop and therefore meet Constitutional requirements: the roadblock must be publicized ahead of time to make the public aware of the stop such that they will know it is lawful police authority, it must be operated under specific limitations imposed by clear, carefully crafted regulations approved by high-level administrators, which restrict discretion of officers in the field and assure that motorists would not be singled out arbitrarily. Motorists must be allowed to execute a U-turn and leave the area if they do so legally, the traffic delay created by the roadblock must not exceed 5-10 minutes, and there must be statistics on file to show that the placement of the roadblock at the particular location will have a positive impact on the detection and arrest of drunk drivers.

Essentially what this means is that a high level police law enforcement officer who has some responsibility for the roadblock must come to court and testify regarding the procedural safeguards utilized to meet the requirements of Sitz and Little. If no such person comes to court (in addition to the arresting officers) the case cannot proceed.

This week I was Defending a pleasant woman that got caught up in a roadblock sting. The prosecutor on the morning of trial offered nothing in the form of a plea bargain so I told her we would try the case. (ironically, this was the same prosecutor I wrote about earlier that seems to have problems being forthright, honest and pleasant). Anyway, after I told her we would try the case, she started running around trying to locate the necessary officers which she did not have (one would have thought this would have been accomplished prior to the trial date). She then requested a postponement of the case to locate such officer and the Judge correctly denied her request. Case Dismissed. Happy Client!

It is important for trial counsel to know the law regarding roadblocks and field sobriety tests as they relate to DUI case in Maryland because then DUI trials can be won. If counsel was not aware of the aforementioned requirements in DUI/DWI roadblock cases, counsel may have simply plead the case and compromised the Defendant’s rights.