Com. v. Mitchell

Citation355 S.W.2d 686
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellant, v. Mary A. MITCHELL, Appellee.
Decision Date23 March 1962
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)

John B. Breckinridge, Atty. Gen., Wm. A. Watson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellant.

(No counsel), for appellee.

STANLEY, Commissioner.

The Attorney General seeks a certification of the law (§ 352, Cr.Code of Practice) with respect to the right and power of police officers to set up 'roadblocks' for the sole purpose of stopping motorists on the highway and requiring the production of an operator's license. A subsidiary or dependent question is the admissibility in evidence that a driver did not have such license.

The appellee, Mary A. Mitchell, was cited by a state police officer to the Oldham Quarterly Court for driving a motor vehicle without an operator's license. It was there stipulated that the citation was based upon a 'roadblock' by which state police had indiscriminately stopped all traffic for the purpose of ascertaining whether the particular law was being violated, and that the defendant did not have a license. The Quarterly Court dismissed the charge on the ground that the defendant's constitutional right of liberty had been violated by an illegal arrest or restraint and that the evidence obtained thereby was inadmissible. On appeal by the Commonwealth the Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal.

It is unlawful for anyone (subject to inapplicable exemptions) to operate a motor vehicle upon a highway unless he shall have previously secured an operator's license as prescribed. Ky.Rev.Stat. 186.410. The operator must have his license 'in his immediate possession at all times when driving a motor vehicle and shall display it upon demand to * * * a peace officer, a member of the State Highway Patrol' or other officers. KRS 186.510. The penalty for a failure to display a license or furnish satisfactory proof that one had been issued is a fine of not less than $2 nor more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both. KRS 186.990(3). Many states have similar statutes. 5A Am.Jur., Automobiles and Highway Traffic, § 134; 60 C.J.S. Motor Vehicles § 157; 61 C.J.S. Motor Vehicles § 651; Annotation, 143 A.L.R. 1019. The Kentucky State Police (successors of the Highway Patrol, KRS 19.180) are vested with the powers of peace officers generally and are charged particularly with the duty of enforcing the motor vehicle and traffic laws of the Commonwealth. KRS 16.060.

It may be observed that stopping vehicles for the purpose stated is not under a particular statutory authority. It is claimed to be in the exercise of police duty in the enforcement of a statute.

The questions are: Is the practice of setting up a roadblock for motor vehicles for the purpose of requiring the driver to display an operator's license an invasion of the individual's constitutional freedom? Is the act an unlawful arrest or restraint or an illegal search contrary to § 10 of the Constitution? The question of admissibility of evidence, obtained solely and entirely by the procedure, that a driver did not have or display a license is determinable upon the answers to those questions.

Let it be emphasized that we are dealing here with systematic and indiscriminate stopping of all motor traffic on the highway for the good faith purpose of making inspections of drivers' licenses. Our decision may not be regarded as sanctioning the stopping of cars for the ostensible or pretended purpose stated when in reality it is actuated by an ulterior motive not related to the licensing requirement, or is done as a pretext or as a subterfuge for circumventing the constitutional provision against searches of persons and property without a valid warrant. We shall continue to condemn such an act. See 5A, Am.Jur., Automobiles and Highway Traffic, § 134; Cox v. State, 181 Tenn. 344, 181 S.W.2d 338, 154 A.L.R. 809. And we are not concerned here with a search of a vehicle which has been intercepted for the purpose of examining the license of the driver, for there was no kind of search in the present case or proffer of evidence obtained by a search.

In City of Miami v. Aronovitz, Fla., 114 So.2d 784, a motorist had been stopped by a roadblock set up on a street by Miami police and requested to exhibit his state driver's license. He displayed a license and was sent on his way. The Florida statute is practically the same as the Kentucky statute. The motorist brought a declaratory judgment action against the city and its officials, seeking a declaration of rights of freedom and an injunction against the officers from continuing the practice. The contentions of his complaint were, in part, substantially the same as the contentions made in the case now before us. The Florida court noted that the owner of an operator's license exercises a privilege granted by the state and subject to reasonable regulation of the use of the highway common to all citizens. It held that the action of the police was within reasonable regulation of individual rights and was in...

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30 cases
  • Little v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1983
    ...set up to check drivers' licenses and vehicle registration. See City of Miami v. Aronovitz, 114 So.2d 784 (Fla.1959); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 355 S.W.2d 686 (Ky.1962); Morgan v. Town of Heidelberg, 246 Miss. 481, 150 So.2d 512 (1963); State v. Kabayama, 98 N.J.Super. 85, 236 A.2d 164 (196......
  • U.S. v. Montgomery
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 26, 1977
    ...173 Colo. 510, 484 P.2d 1207, 1209 (1971); Morgan v. Town of Heidelberg, 246 Miss. 481, 150 So.2d 512 (Miss.1963); Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 355 S.W.2d 686 (Ky.1962); see United States v. Cupps, 503 F.2d 277, 280 (6th Cir. 1974) (citing Mitchell, supra, with approval); see also People v. Sw......
  • Garrett v. Goodwin
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas
    • December 17, 1982
    ...the Kentucky Court of Appeals sustained a traffic conviction for driving without a license at a roadblock stop in Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 355 S.W.2d 686 (Ky.1962). The court was careful to note that it was not "sanctioning the stopping of cars for the ostensible or pretended purpose state......
  • Williams v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • February 20, 1974
    ...D.C.App., 218 A.2d 507; City of Miami v. Aronovitz (1959), 114 So.2d 784 (Florida) (roadblock for license check); Commonwealth v. Mitchell (1962), 355 S.W.2d 686 (Kentucky) (roadblock for license check); State v. Kabayama (1967), 98 N.J.Super. 85, 236 A.2d 164 (New Jersey) (roadblock for sa......
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