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SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT UPHOLDS CONSTITUTIONALITY OF ROADBLOCKS/SOBRIETY CHECKPOINTS

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, August 04, 2009
On July 23, 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the constitutionality of police roadblocks.  In two separate cases, Commonwealth v. Murphy (SJC-10287) and Commonwealth v.  Swartz (SJC-10426), the Court decided that the Massachusetts State Police roadblock guideline (as set forth in TRF-15) was not unconstitutional on its face by virtue of its permitting some discretion to the officers who perform the initial screening.  In Swartz, the Court went on to decide that the roadblock in question was not a general search for evidence just because police were authorized to detain individuals if they observed evidence of a crime while briefly detaining members of the public during the sobriety checkpoint. While upholding the constitutionality of the roadblocks, these cases still leave open the possibility of suppressing evidence derived from them.  Where the police deviate from the either their own guidelines or those requirements previously set forth by the Court, motions to suppress evidence must be filed and courts must decide whether the police were in strict compliance with those rules. If not, the courts are free to exclude the evividence, which may be field sobriety tests, incriminatory statements such as admissions of drinking, alcohol containers, or breath or blood test evidence.

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