Have you or someone you know been stopped at a Sobriety Checkpoint in the State of Indiana? The constitutionality of Sobriety Checkpoints is determined on a case-by-case basis. It is important to contact an experienced attorney to understand your rights. The attorneys at Tate & Bowen LLP are here to help guide you through the process. Contact our office 317-296-5294 to set up a consultation.
Sobriety Checkpoints raise two separate constitutional issues. First, constitutionality under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. ”
The second issue is constitutionality of a Sobriety Checkpoint stop under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. While Article I, Section 11 reads almost identical to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the application is independent from the Fourth Amendment, the analysis differs, and the protections can go beyond its federal counterpart. See State v. Gerschoffer, 763 N.E.2d 960, 965 (Ind. 2002); see also State v. Bulington, 802. N.E.2d 435, 438 (Ind. 2004).
Under the Fourth Amendment, the Court will look at federal requirements (i.e., warrants, probable cause, etc.) to determine whether the search and seizure were valid. See Trowbridge v. State, 717 N.E.2d 138, 143 (Ind. 1999). Under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals has placed the burden on the State to show that the intrusion was reasonable under a “totality of the circumstances” analysis. Bullington, 802 N.E.2d at 438.
I. Was the Stop Made Pursuant to a Checkpoint
If you were not pulled directly in to a Sobriety Checkpoint, and instead were stopped outside the Sobriety Checkpoint (i.e., by a chase car), the State may try to argue that your stop was not made pursuant to a Sobriety Checkpoint and that the constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint itself has no bearing. If a stop is found to not be made pursuant to a Sobriety Checkpoint, the analysis would then hinge on the factors of a valid traffic stop and/or Terry stop. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
In King v. State, police officers set up a Sobriety Checkpoint. While conducting the Sobriety Checkpoint, an officer observed King driving in the grass to avoid the Sobriety Checkpoint, and subsequently pulled him over, away from the Sobriety Checkpoint itself. King v. State, 877 N.E.2d 518, 520-521 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). The trial court denied the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress the stop and evidence seized as a result of the stop which alleged unconstitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint, and the Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal. Id.
The Indiana Court of Appeals held in King that the State’s actions in operating the checkpoint were unconstitutional and specifically violated Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Id. at 525. Further, the Court held that in light of the unconstitutionality of the checkpoint, it need not address the issue of whether or not the officer had reasonable suspicion to pull the driver over, and reversed the trial courts denial of the Defendant’s motion to suppress. Id. Thus, in light of the Court’s holding in King, even a car stopped outside of a Sobriety Checkpoint can arguably be subject to the same constitutionality analysis of a driver pulled directly in to a checkpoint.
II. Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution
The burden is on the State to prove that, under the totality of the circumstances, a Sobriety Checkpoint was reasonable under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. There is no burden on the defendant to show that the police checkpoint was unconstitutional when evaluating an Article I, Section 11 violation claim. Gerschoffer, 763 N.E.2d at 965; see also King, 877 N.E.2d at 521.
The totality of the circumstances test and the analysis thereof is laid out in Gerschoffer by the Indiana Supreme Court takes into account and weighs six (6) factors that are relevant to the constitutionality of a Sobriety Checkpoint. Gerschoffer, 763 N.E.2d at 966-71.
1. Neutral Plan Approved by Appropriate Officials
The first factor looks at whether a neutral plan for the Sobriety Checkpoint was present that was approved by appropriate officials. A properly approved, neutral plan helps support the reasonableness of a Sobriety Checkpoint. Id. The burden is on the State to present evidence of such. Id. at 967. Simply stating that the Sobriety Checkpoint followed “federal and state police guidelines” is not sufficient for this factor to weigh in favor of reasonableness. Id. Without evidence of a neutral plan approved by appropriate officials, this factor should weigh against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint.
2. Objective, Location, and Timing
The second analysis examines whether the Sobriety Checkpoint was “sufficiently related to the legitimate law enforcement purpose of combating drunk driving;” whether there was a link between the timing of the Sobriety Checkpoint and the purpose of combatting drunk driving; and whether there was a link between the location of the Sobriety Checkpoint and the purpose of combatting drunk driving. Id. As held by the Indiana Supreme Court, “[a] seizure is not reasonable unless it is well calculated to effectuate its purpose.” Id. In King v. State, the Court held that a Sobriety Checkpoint conducted near a private house party, targeting a specific group of people instead of the public in general, “did not effectively target the danger of impaired driving.” King, 877 N.E.2d at 522-23. The Court will look for evidence of objective considerations that drunk driving had been a particular problem, at a specific location, during a specific time, which prompted police to target the danger of impaired driving with a Sobriety Checkpoint.
Without a specific showing that a Sobriety Checkpoint “was sufficiently related to the legitimate law enforcement purpose of” “targeting the public danger of impaired driving,” that there was a link between the timing of the police checkpoint and the purpose of combatting drunk driving, and that there was a link between the location of the police checkpoint and the purpose of combatting drunk driving, this factor weighs against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint. Gerschoffer, 763 N.E.2d at 967-68.
3. Police Discretion
For the third factor, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with other jurisdictions in holding that “the degree of discretion exercised by field officers conducting the roadblock [is] a critical factor.” Id. A Court will look at the amount of cars pulled into a Sobriety Checkpoint at a time, the procedures that an officer follows when approaching and screening motorists, and the discretion each officer had in deciding what type of sobriety test to perform. The State must show that “it provided sufficiently explicit guidance to ensure against arbitrary or inconsistent actions by the screening officer.” Id. Failure to show consistency and guidance, and/or enter any evidence of this into the record, should lead a Court to finding that this very important factor would weigh against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint.
4. Degree of Intrusion
For the fourth factor, the State must show that the degree of intrusion was reasonable. Id. at 969. In analyzing this factor, a Court will look at the average time of detention when a vehicle is pulled into a Sobriety Checkpoint and no violations is detected, as well as whether the Sobriety Checkpoint was avoidable. The reasonableness of average detention time is in the discretion of the Court. For guidance, in Gerschoffer, the Court held that the reasonableness of an average detention of four minutes when an officer did not detect any violations was questionable at best. Id.
A Court will look at signage and location for a Sobriety Checkpoint. Specifically, they will look at the visibility of the signage, and that it was sufficiently ahead of a Sobriety Checkpoint to inform a Driver of a Sobriety Checkpoint to a degree that they could still avoid it. Placing signage only directly at the entrance of the Checkpoint should not be sufficient. “The more avoidable a Sobriety Checkpoint is, the less it interferes with the liberty of individual drivers.” Id.
Absent any evidence that the timing of the average detention of drivers when no violation was detected was reasonable, and of the ability to avoid a Sobriety Checkpoint, should weigh against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint under this factor.
5. Safe Conditions
For the fifth factor, the Court will weigh the overall safety of the Sobriety Checkpoint. In Gerschoffer, the Court held that “[t]o be constitutionally reasonable, the location and timing of sobriety checkpoints should take into account police officer safety, public safety, and public convenience.” Id. at 968. Some factors the Court will look at are the weather (i.e., rainy/clear/snowy), the lighting of the checkpoint (i.e., auxiliary or street lighting), and the overall operation of the checkpoint (i.e., were all the individuals directing traffic properly trained). Additional factors may be presented (i.e., condensing five (5) lanes into one for the purposes of a Sobriety Checkpoint could arguably present a danger to drivers). Failure by the State to present sufficient evidence of these factors should lead to this factor weighing against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint.
Lastly, a Court will take into account the effectiveness of a Sobriety Checkpoint, after the fact. In Gerschoffer, the Court reviewed the apprehension rate of the roadblock in question, while also noting that possible deterrence through advance publicity should also be taken in to account. Id. at 970. This factor is also in the discretionary opinion of the Court. For reference, in Gerschoffer, the Indiana Supreme Court held that where seventy (7) cars were stopped and two (2) individuals were arrested for operating while intoxicated in two (2) hours, the percentage was fairly low. Id.
In order for the Court to weigh the possibility of deterrence through advance publicity, the State must present evidence of actual media outlet publicity. The Court will not simply infer that the Sobriety Checkpoint was effectively deterred by publicity without evidence of such publicity. Id. Without a showing by the State that the Checkpoint was reasonably effective, this factor should weigh against the reasonableness and constitutionality of the Sobriety Checkpoint.
The burden is on the State to prove the reasonableness of all six (6) factors set out by the Indiana Supreme Court in Gerschoffer, and reaffirmed in King, for a Sobriety Checkpoint to be constitutionally valid under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. The Court will weigh the factors under a totality of the circumstances, and no one factor is determinative in its own right.
III. Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution
In addition to the Gerschoffer analysis, a challenge under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution will prompt the Court to look at federal requirements (i.e., warrants, probable cause, etc.) to determine whether the search and seizure was valid. Trowbridge, 717 N.E.2d at 143. The Indiana Court of Appeals in Sublett v. State held that traffic checkpoints are constitutional under the Fourth Amendment under particular circumstances. 815 N.E.2d 1031, 1034 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004). Specifically, the Court applied a three-part test. Id.; citing Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50-51 (1979). The three-part test balanced the State’s interest in preventing accidents that occurred as a result of drunk driving, the degree to which a traffic checkpoint advances a public interest, and the level of intrusion upon the privacy of an individual that results from the traffic checkpoint. Id.
Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution provides a more prudent road to challenging a Sobriety Checkpoint in the State of Indiana. It is unlikely that an Indiana appellate Court will challenge the magnitude of eradicating drunken driving as a public interest, the degree to which a Sobriety Checkpoint advances that interest, and that the measure of intrusion upon a motorist stopped briefly at a sobriety checkpoint was more than slight based on its past holdings.
If you or someone you know has been arrested as a result of a Sobriety Checkpoint, it is important to contact an experienced attorney immediately. The attorneys at Tate & Bowen LLP are here to assist and protect your rights. For information on fighting your criminal charges, please contact Tate & Bowen LLP at 317-296-5294 to help guide you through the process.
All information included in the above blog is solely for informational purposes. The information above does not create an attorney/client relationship and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Seek legal advice on the topic before relying on any information contained herein, as laws change and the information may be out-of-date.