Court Cases Involving Roadblocks

This is a collection of court cases that pertain to roadblocks at both the federal and state levels. For the federal cases, we have included summaries below. To see the full text, just click the name of the case.

Federal Court Cases

US v. Martinez-Fuerte

This is a border-related case that incrementally increases law enforcement’s ability to avoid Fourth Amendment restrictions.

The court permits the use of roadblocks several miles inland from national borders under the following rationale: There aren’t feasible alternatives (in their opinion). It is a known and ongoing roadblock so travelers can avoid it if they want to. And, supposedly motorist fear and surprise is minimal because this is an established roadblock with clear evidence of enforcement authority.

These themes will be repeated in subsequent cases as if they are supported by scientific findings, rather than the off-hand personal opinions of court justices, of which they are.

US v. Huguenin & Martin

Defendants-appellants Judith A. Huguenin and William A. Martin appeal the denial of their joint motion to suppress evidence obtained after a search and seizure at an automobile checkpoint.

Following their conditional pleas of guilty for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, defendants challenged the constitutionality of police procedures used to stop motorists exiting off a Tennessee highway upon warning that motorists are approaching a narcotics/DUI checkpoint.

Because we conclude that the procedures used by law enforcement officers were unconstitutional, we REVERSE the denial of the defendants’ motion to suppress.

Delaware v. Prouse 1979

This is the case that pulls together the two themes that have merged in the dispute over when it is permissible to stop motorists without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

The court re-affirmed that individual officers cannot randomly stop motorists, just because they don’t have anything better to do with their time. They must have at least reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle and question the driver.

However, the court volunteered that all the issues that made such random stops “unreasonable” under the Fourth Amendment could be remedied by setting up formal roadblocks. This was a loud and clear signal from the court that roadblocks were OK as long as they were organized and systematic in their administration and implementation.

Terry v. Ohio 1968

This case established three important precedents: Stopping a person through the use of police authority, even though an arrest is not commenced, is a “seizure” for Fourth Amendment purposes. “Patting down” a suspect in search of arms is a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes. However, this is the case that determined search and seizure are permissible WITHOUT probable cause.

A lesser standard, “reasonable suspicion” will heretofore be considered sufficient to permit search and seizure. This is a clear departure from the standard that defined the term “reasonable” as it related to the Fourth Amendment.

“Unreasonable” searches and seizures were events that could not be supported by probable cause standards and were therefore unconstitutional. Allowing search and seizure without probable cause was a major emasculation of the Fourth Amendment that has led to the continual erosion of privacy rights.

Edmond And Palmer v. City of Indianapolis

To summarize, we have identified four exceptions to the principle that a search or seizure is forbidden by the Fourth Amendment unless there is a basis for believing that a particular search or seizure, as distinct from a program of universal or randomized searches or seizures, will yield evidence or fruits or instrumentalities of crime.

The first exception, illustrated by the roadblock set up to catch a fleeing criminal, is where there is a suspect — the police have identified the criminal and have only to find him — but it is infeasible to avoid an indiscriminate search or seizure of other persons, persons not suspected of crime, as well.

The second exception, illustrated by the hypothetical dynamite case, is where no specific person is under suspicion but the circumstances make it impossible to prevent a crime without an indiscriminate search.

The third exception is the regulatory search, the objective of which is to protect a specific activity rather than to operate as an adjunct to general criminal law enforcement.

The last exception is the prevention of illegal importation whether of persons (a power limited to the federal government, Saenz v. Roe, 119 S. Ct. 1518 (1999)) or of goods. On the basis of the record compiled in the preliminary-injunction proceedings–a record essentially limited to the parties’ stipulation of facts–the Indianapolis roadblock program has not been shown to fit any of these exceptions, and thus the lawfulness of the program has not, as the district judge believed, been established.

As that was the only ground on which she denied the preliminary injunction, her order cannot stand.

Galberth & Taylor v. US

In these consolidated appeals appellants Russell Galberth and Jay Taylor appeal their convictions on the ground that the trial court erred in denying their motions to suppress evidence that was discovered after they were stopped at police traffic roadblocks.

Guided by Supreme Court precedent, we balance the government interest served by the roadblocks against the liberty interest of the individuals seized.

We therefore conclude that appellant Galberth’s conviction must be reversed, given Judge Dixon’s finding that the roadblock at which Galberth was stopped was designed to combat violence and illegal drug activity. We further conclude that Judge Huhn’s finding do not clearly indicate the principal purpose of the road block at which appellant Taylor was stopped. We therefore remand for further findings in appellant Taylor’s case.

US v. Brignoni-Ponce 1975

This case confirms that roving patrols cannot randomly stop and check vehicles, unless they have “reasonable suspicion” that the vehicles are carrying smuggled goods or illegal aliens.

Almeida-Sanchez v. US

Petitioner, a Mexican citizen and holder of a valid work permit, challenges the constitutionality of the Border Patrol’s warrantless search of his automobile 25 air miles north of the Mexican border.

The search, made without probable cause or consent, uncovered marihuana, which was used to convict petitioner of a federal crime.

The Government seeks to justify the search on the basis of 287 (a) (3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides for warrantless searches of automobiles and other conveyances “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States,” as authorized by regulations to be promulgated by the Attorney General. The Attorney General’s regulation defines “reasonable distance” as “within 100 air miles from any external boundary of the United States.”

The Court of Appeals upheld the search on the basis of the Act and regulation. The US Supreme Court reversed the Appeals Court decision and declared that the warrantless search of petitioner’s automobile, made without probable cause or consent, violated the Fourth Amendment.

Camara v. Municipal Court

Appellant was charged with violating the San Francisco Housing Code for refusing, after three efforts by city housing inspectors to secure his consent, to allow a warrantless inspection of the ground-floor quarters which he leased and residential use of which allegedly violated the apartment building’s occupancy permit.

Claiming the inspection ordinance unconstitutional for failure to require a warrant for inspections, appellant while awaiting trial sued in a State Superior Court for a writ of prohibition, which the court denied.

Relying on Frank v. Maryland, 359 U.S. 360, and similar cases, the District Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the ordinance did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The State Supreme Court denied a petition for hearing.

US v. Ortiz

The Fourth Amendment held to forbid Border Patrol officers, in the absence of consent or probable cause, to search private vehicles at traffic checkpoints removed from the border and its functional equivalents, and for this purpose there is no difference between a checkpoint and a roving patrol.

Brown v. Texas

Two police officers, while cruising near noon in a patrol car, observed appellant and another man walking away from one another in an alley in an area with a high incidence of drug traffic. They stopped and asked appellant to identify himself and explain what he was doing.

One officer testified that he stopped appellant because the situation “looked suspicious, and we had never seen that subject in that area before.” The officers did not claim to suspect appellant of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed.

When appellant refused to identify himself, he was arrested for violation of a Texas statute which makes it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer “who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information.”

Appellant’s motion to set aside an information charging him with violation of the statute on the ground that the statute violated the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments was denied, and he was convicted and fined.

The U.S. Supreme Court, 443 U.S. 47, decided June 25, 1979 , found in Brown’s favor and overturned his State conviction. The Court held: “The application of the Texas statute to detain appellant and require him to identify himself violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion to believe that appellant was engaged or had engaged in criminal conduct. Detaining appellant to require him to identify himself constituted a seizure of his person subject to the requirement of the Fourth Amendment that the seizure be “reasonable”,” cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873.

The Fourth Amendment requires that such a seizure be based on specific, objective facts indicating that society’s legitimate interests require such actions, or that the seizure be carried out pursuant to a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of individual officers. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648.

Here, the State does not contend that appellant was stopped pursuant to a practice embodying neutral criteria, and the officer’s actions were not justified on the ground that they had a reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, that he was involved in criminal activity.

Absent any basis for suspecting appellant of misconduct, the balance between the public interest in crime prevention and appellant’s right to personal security and privacy tilts in favor of freedom from police interference.”

Michigan v. Sitz

This is the culmination of three decades of cases that lead to the disintegration of the Fourth Amendment as it applies to motorists, or anyone on public thoroughfares or areas deemed open to the public.

By bringing all the pieces together the court fashioned a decision based on half-truths, suppositions, baseless opinions and a determined effort to introduce the use of roadblocks as a standard means of controlling human behavior in the United States.

The court left little doubt that it understood that the inherent value of roadblocks is to instill fear and intimidation in the minds of citizens who use the public roadways. There was barely a pretence that roadblocks would “catch” large numbers of drunk drivers.

Here the court repeated its previous findings; roadblocks are a “minor inconvenience,” they create minimal fear and apprehension, abusive discretion in minimized by requiring administrative oversight, and by balancing the “benefits” that derive from roadblocks against the infringement of individual rights the state gains more than the individual loses.

The high profile “drunk driving problem” was the ideal venue to exercise this decision.

State/Local Court Cases

Bobby Joe Mullinax v. State of Arkansas
Supreme Court of Arkansas

State of Hawaii v. Edward Fedak
Intermediate Court of Appeals in Hawaii

The People of the State of Illinois v. David Edwards
Appellate Court of Illinois Third District

State of Nebraska v. Billie Jo McCleery
Supreme Court of Nebraska

People v. Raymond Maulfair
Supreme Court of New York

Gregory R. Wheeling v. North Dakota Department of Transportation
Supreme Court of North Dakota

Dale Uhden v. City of Bismarck
Supreme Court of North Dakota

The State of Ohio v. Orr
Ohio Court of Appeals

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gary Beaman
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

State of Utah v. Lisa Deherrera
Utah Court of Appeals

Roy Berger Bass v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Circuit Court of Chesterfield County, Virginia

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