State v. Alexander

Decision Date01 March 1985
Docket NumberNos. C,TRC-4175,s. C
Citation489 N.E.2d 1093,22 Ohio Misc.2d 34
Parties, 22 O.B.R. 342 The STATE of Ohio v. ALEXANDER. * 84-A, C 84-B and C 84-C.
CourtOhio Court of Common Pleas

Joseph T. Deters, Cincinnati, for plaintiff.

W. Kenneth Zuk, Cincinnati, for defendant.

PAINTER, Judge.

This matter came on to be heard on January 10, 1985, on defendant's motion to suppress his arrest as being in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The facts are basically undisputed.

Defendant, Thomas D. Alexander, was operating his motor vehicle on October 14, 1984, at approximately 8:20 p.m. in Winton Woods Park, which is in Hamilton County, Ohio. At that time, Hamilton County Park District Rangers were operating a "roadblock," stopping all vehicles passing a certain point upon the roadway inside Winton Woods Park. Defendant's vehicle was in a long line of automobiles being checked by the rangers. Sergeant Gregory T. Smith testified that the purpose of the roadblock was twofold: rangers were checking for motor vehicle permits, which are required to operate a vehicle in the Hamilton County Park System, and for possible intoxication of the operators of the vehicles. However, there was no testimony whatever that the defendant's vehicle was checked for a permit; and, it being quite evident that the procedure of checking a vehicle for a windshield permit would not necessarily involve talking with the operator, or even in fact stopping the vehicle, the court finds that this independent basis for the stop was not established by the state. Therefore, this case becomes a pure "roadblock" case.

When defendant's vehicle approached the roadblock, Sergeant Smith observed a plastic cup of what appeared to be beer in defendant's hand as he was operating the vehicle. The car window was open.

Sergeant Smith testified that defendant "was seated in the driver's side, his eyes were half closed, his head was drooped down * * *." Defendant had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage about his person. The officer instructed defendant to pull his car off to the side of the road. When defendant did so he almost drove into a ditch. When asked to exit the vehicle defendant continued to sit in the vehicle with his head drooped down. Sergeant Smith had to reach in, turn off the car's engine and open the door for defendant, whereupon defendant stumbled exiting the vehicle. Sergeant Smith testified that, in his opinion, the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of exiting the vehicle.

Defendant was then arrested and taken to the Greenhills Police Station for further testing.

Opinion

This is a matter of first impression in Ohio. We have been cited no authority, and our independent research has discovered no previous Ohio case, involving use of a police "roadblock" to apprehend individuals operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol.

Our research has uncovered that similar roadblocks have been found to be not violative of the Fourth Amendment in the following cases: State v. Deskins (1983), 234 Kan. 529, 673 P.2d 1174; Kinslow v. Commonwealth (Ky.1983), 660 S.W.2d 677; State v. Coccomo (1980), 177 N.J.Super. 575, 427 A.2d 131; People v. Scott (1984), 63 N.Y.2d 518, 483 N.Y.Supp.2d 649, 473 N.E.2d 1; and Little v. State (1984), 300 Md. 485, 479 A.2d 903. On the other hand, the following cases have determined the roadblocks to be contrary to the Fourth Amendment: State, ex rel. Ekstrom, v. Justice Court (1983), 136 Ariz. 1, 663 P.2d 992; People v. Bartley (1984), 125 Ill.App.3d 575, 80 Ill.Dec.894, 466 N.E.2d 346; State v. McLaughlin (Ind.App.1984), 471 N.E.2d 1125; Commonwealth v. McGeoghegan (1983), 389 Mass. 137, 449 N.E.2d 349; State v. Smith (Okla.Crim.App.1984), 674 P.2d 562; State v. Olgaard (S.D.1976), 248 N.W.2d 392. While some of the above cases turned on individual facts, the underlying principles are the same.

It is this court's opinion that after the stop at the roadblock, the officers had sufficient probable cause to arrest defendant. Therefore, the remaining issue is whether the roadblock itself was proper; that is, whether or not the use of a police roadblock, during which all vehicles are stopped and the occupants questioned as to the possibility of their being under the influence of alcohol, can be constitutionally supported.

It should be noted that Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution is identical to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is, in any event, applicable to the states. Mapp v. Ohio (1961), 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 .

At the outset, it is unquestioned that a checkpoint or roadblock stop is a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte (1976), 428 U.S. 543, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116; Delaware v. Prouse (1979), 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660; People v. Scott, supra. The Constitution prohibits only unreasonable seizures. The question becomes, of course, whether the seizure is "reasonable."

"Reasonableness in this context requires the proper balancing between the privacy interests of the individual and the public interests of the state. The action of the police must be justified at its inception and be a reasonable response to the problem which it addresses." People v. Torres (1984), 125 Misc.2d 78, 478 N.Y.Supp.2d 771, at 774. We agree with the Indiana court that the roadblock procedure at issue in this case "lies at the very fringe of the fourth amendment." State v. McLaughlin, supra, at 1141.

To begin the investigation, we must first look to a line of Supreme Court cases which originally developed from border patrol efforts to curtail illegal immigration. In 1975, in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce (1975), 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607, the court ruled that roving patrol roadblocks (and roadblocks at random) were unconstitutional. However, in 1976, in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, the Supreme Court ruled that a fixed checkpoint by border patrol was allowable. The court made a distinction partially because of its belief that the intrusion on the rights of individuals is much less at fixed roadblocks than at roving, unannounced roadblocks, especially those late at night, which could certainly cause concern, surprise and alarm to lawful travelers.

As in many Fourth Amendment cases, the issue comes down to a "balancing test" between the rights of law-abiding individuals to go about their normal business free of government interference and/or harassment, and the legitimate interests of law enforcement in preventing certain types of behavior and in apprehending perpetrators.

There are many considerations involved, the most important of which, in the opinion of this court, are the following: (1) the amount of intrusion involved in the stop, (2) the lack of discretionary or selective stopping of individuals, and (3) the importance of the law enforcement goal to be achieved. We believe that this case must be decided pursuant to the above considerations.

The United States Supreme Court has provided only limited guidance. In the case of Delaware v. Prouse, supra, roving patrol roadblocks checking for licenses were held to be invalid. However, the court went on to state, "[t]his holding does not preclude the State of Delaware or other States from developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion. Questioning of all oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one possible alternative." Delaware v. Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 663, 99 S.Ct. at 1401. (Emphasis added.) The court evidently felt that in allowing individual officers the unlimited authority to check random vehicles could certainly result in abuses and discriminatory treatment of citizens.

Being stopped by a policeman is, under the most favorable conditions, a frightening and stressful situation, even for the most law-abiding citizen. Law enforcement officers must be prevented from arbitrarily stopping vehicles absent probable cause, or at least Terry v. Ohio suspicion of criminal activity. (See 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 .) We must remember that the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent arbitrary government interference with the lives of ordinary citizens. The courts of this land are charged with the responsibility of protecting the public from arbitrary and unreasonable governmental action. This court takes that responsibility very seriously. Cf. State v. Snyder (1984), 14 OBR 430, 474 N.E.2d 702, and Cincinnati v. Morris Investment Co. (1982), 6 Ohio Misc.2d 1, 451 N.E.2d 259. We simply do not believe that the governmental action was unreasonable in this particular instance.

In the instant case, all vehicles were stopped at an established checkpoint. Especially considering that this "roadblock" existed in a county park rather than, for example, on a deserted road in the middle of the night, we don't believe that the subjective...

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