State v. Record

Decision Date10 June 1988
Docket NumberNo. 86-041,86-041
Citation548 A.2d 422,150 Vt. 84
CourtVermont Supreme Court
Parties, 57 USLW 2042 STATE of Vermont v. Steven RECORD.

Shelley A. Hill, Windsor County Deputy State's Atty., White River Junction, for plaintiff-appellee.

Frederick M. Glover of Law Offices of F.J. Glover, P.C., Ludlow, for defendant-appellant.

Before ALLEN, C.J., and HILL, PECK, GIBSON and HAYES, 1 JJ.

PECK, Justice.

This is an interlocutory appeal from a denial of defendant's pretrial motion to suppress all evidence of intoxication obtained at a motor vehicle roadblock checkpoint in Springfield, Vermont. The roadblock was established by the Springfield Police Department during the evening of July 18, 1985. The sole question presented for our consideration is whether Chapter I, Article Eleven of the Vermont Constitution was violated by the warrantless stop at the checkpoint which had been established for the purpose of detecting and deterring drivers operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor (DUI). We hold that under the facts of this case the district court's ruling denying the motion to suppress was proper; accordingly, we affirm.

On July 18, 1985, the Springfield Police Department established a roadblock in connection with project S.T.A.R.T. (Stop Threats of Alcohol Related Tragedies). It was designed and conducted pursuant to policy guidelines to curb officer discretion, ensure public safety, and minimize the length and degree of intrusion in accordance with this Court's directive in State v. Martin, 145 Vt. 562, 571, 496 A.2d 442, 448 (1985).

Defendant concedes that, given the facts here, the stop at issue is constitutional under this Court's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. See id. at 568, 496 A.2d at 446. He contends, however, that Chapter I, Article Eleven of the Vermont Constitution affords individuals more protection than its federal counterpart, and urges us to hold sobriety checkpoints unconstitutional under the Vermont Constitution. Defendant's argument can be simply stated. He contends that in the absence of particularized suspicion, warrantless searches are proscribed by Article Eleven unless such searches can be characterized as the least intrusive means of advancing a compelling state interest.

The defendant first points to the language of the Vermont Constitution. He notes that while the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures without a warrant, the word "unreasonable" does not appear in Article Eleven, which reads in part: "[T]he people have a right to hold themselves, their houses, papers, and possessions, free from search or seizure...." Vt. Const. ch. 1, art. 11.

Regardless of this difference, this Court has held that the word "unreasonable" is as implicit in Article Eleven as it is express in the Fourth Amendment. In an early case, Lincoln v. Smith, 27 Vt. 328, 346 (1855), this Court stated: "the construction of the eleventh article of our bill of rights is to secure only against unreasonable searches and seizures...." (emphasis added); we recently approved this interpretation in State v. Badger, 141 Vt. 430, 454, 450 A.2d 336, 350 (1982). Therefore, Article Eleven does not mandate an absolute prohibition against searches and seizures undertaken without a proper warrant.

The primary evil sought to be avoided by Article Eleven was the issuance and enforcement of general warrants. See Lincoln, 27 Vt. at 346; E. Fisher, Search and Seizure 627 (1970). Defendant contends that roadblock checkpoints exhibit many of the same characteristics as general warrants, and are therefore prohibited. As Justice Bennett explained in Lincoln, the general warrant was abhorrent "because it was not fit that it should be left to the officer to judge of the ground of suspicion; but that this belonged to the magistrate...." Lincoln, 27 Vt. at 350. In this case, the police conducted the roadblocks pursuant to written, objective police policies based on clear judicial guidelines which effectively circumscribed officer discretion, and effectively avoided the evil sought to be prevented by the prohibition of general warrants.

Roadblocks, like general warrants, involve searches and seizures of individuals without particularized suspicion. Article Eleven generally requires particularized suspicion to justify a search or seizure of an individual; however, it has been historically recognized that use of generalized suspicion is sometimes justified. See Lincoln, 27 Vt. at 350. 2

In the present case the seizures were justified. The sobriety checkpoint enabled the police to apprehend intoxicated drivers who may have otherwise posed a serious threat to society. In addition, the written police guidelines prevented arbitrary police conduct, and the scope of the roadblock was narrowly drawn. The police guidelines required that the police act with restraint, and the stop was carried out for the limited purpose of apprehending drunk drivers. See Opinion of Justices, 128 N.H. 14, 16-17, 509 A.2d 744, 745-46 (1986) (checkpoints constitutional under state constitution); State v. Kirk, 202 N.J.Super. 28, 56-58, 493 A.2d 1271, 1287-88 (1985) (roadblocks may be constitutional under New Jersey Constitution if properly done).

Article Eleven of the Vermont Constitution is similar in purpose and effect to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, this Court, as the final arbiter of this state's constitution, is free "to interpret the precise meaning of our own constitutional equivalent so long as no federal proscriptions are transgressed." In re E.T.C., 141 Vt. 375, 378, 449 A.2d 937, 939 (1982). While the balancing test employed under the Fourth Amendment is not compelled by the language of Article Eleven, in view of Article One it is nevertheless in keeping with its spirit.

The language of Article Eleven seems to prohibit unequivocally warrantless searches and seizures; however, Article One sets forth the principle that all persons have the right to enjoy "certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety...." Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 1. We recognize that in order to preserve Article One interests the government may properly exercise its " 'inherent power to limit in a very minor way the mobility of some of its citizens.' " See State v. Alexander, 22 Ohio Misc.2d 34, 40, 489 N.E.2d 1093, 1097 (1985) (quoting People v. Torres, 125 Misc.2d 78, ----, 478 N.Y.S.2d 771, 775 (Crim.Ct.1984)). In the past, this Court has balanced and limited the Article Eleven interest to be free from warrantless arrest where the public welfare is at stake. See In re Powers, 25 Vt. 261, 266 (1853) (Article Eleven "has never been supposed to prohibit arrests by private persons, or without warrant, in that class of cases where delay would be perilous.").

Under the Fourth Amendment, the constitutionality of a DUI roadblock will "depend upon the reasonableness of the seizure, determined by weighing the public interest in the seizure against the degree of intrusion into personal privacy occasioned by the particular DUI roadblock." Martin, 145 Vt. at 568, 496 A.2d at 446. The reasonableness of the seizure depends "on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers." Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 2640, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979). The factors to be weighed in determining constitutionality of roadblocks include the public interest in the roadblock as a safety measure that immediately removes intoxicated drivers from the public highway and deters other irresponsible individuals from driving after drinking, the degree to which the stop at any given DUI roadblock intrudes upon an individual's legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy, and the extent of the interference with an individual's personal liberty. Martin, 145 Vt. at 569-70, 496 A.2d at 447; see Brown, 443 U.S. at 50-51, 99 S.Ct. at 2640.

Unlike most warrantless "seizures," proper or otherwise, those made at DUI checkpoints are usually undertaken without even a suspicion of criminality in the minds of the officers against most of the motor vehicle operators approaching the checkpoint. This circumstance alone requires that carefully drawn guidelines be promulgated and enforced by the courts to insure that the right to use DUI checkpoints is not subject to abuse. We are, after all, balancing an important private right guaranteed by both the United States and the Vermont Constitutions, against the safety and welfare of the people who use the highways. We believe the criteria established by this Court in Martin satisfy the balancing test when applied to DUI roadblocks under Article Eleven. As a general rule a roadblock will pass constitutional muster if:

(1) the initial stop and the contact between the officers in the field and the motorist involves an explanation of the nature of the roadblock and minimal detention of a nonimpaired driver; (2) the discretion of the officers in the field, as to the method to be utilized in selecting vehicles to be stopped, is carefully circumscribed by clear objective guidelines established by a high level administrative official; (3) the guidelines are followed in the operation of the roadblock; (4) approaching drivers are given adequate warning that there is a roadblock ahead; (5) the likelihood of apprehension, fear or surprise is dispelled by a visible display of legitimate police authority at the roadblock; and (6) vehicles are stopped on a systematic, nonrandom basis that shows drivers they are not being singled out for arbitrary reasons.

Martin, 145 Vt. at 571, 496 A.2d at 448.

Defendant argues that the DUI roadblock is not constitutional under Article Eleven because it is more...

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