Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Roadblocks to Find Unlicensed Drivers

Monday, October 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(WASHINGTON) - Ohio drivers lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday that asked whether police roadblocks to check for unlicensed drivers violated the Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable searches or stops.

The court, without comment, declined to hear the case of two Dayton men cited for driving without licenses in 1998.

``We're pleased with the decision,'' said Dayton city prosecutor Deirdre Logan. ``These types of checkpoints don't violate the Constitution. We intend to do more checkpoints.''

Police generally need a court warrant or a reason to suspect someone of a crime before detaining them for several minutes. But in past rulings, the nation's highest court allowed police to set up sobriety checkpoints aimed at randomly detecting drunken drivers and border roadblocks to intercept illegal immigrants.

In both instances the court found that benefits to public safety and order outweighed the inconvenience and loss of privacy suffered by motorists.

Last year, the court invalidated random checkpoints intended to catch drug criminals.

Law enforcement in and of itself is not a good enough reason to stop innocent motorists, the 6-3 majority concluded in that case, called Indianapolis v. Edmond.

The court has not ruled squarely on the question of whether catching license violations is reason enough to erect a roadblock. Licenses are checked at sobriety checkpoints, but catching drunks is the main aim.

In the Dayton case, Magus D. Orr and Andre L. Smith were ticketed in June 1998, when police ran several checkpoints throughout the city. The men claim the stops were unconstitutional because police had no particular reason to suspect one motorist over another.

``The idea that government agents may seize people at checkpoints without having any suspicion of wrongdoing it very un-American,'' lawyers for the two men wrote in asking the Supreme Court to hear the appeal.

Dayton police stopped cars according to a prearranged pattern _ say every 10th car or every fourth - and a sign posted 100 yards away warned drivers they might be stopped.

Police asked for a license, and if the driver had none the officer ran a computer check. For most people, the stop lasted no more than two minutes, police said.

The city argued that roadblocks improved public safety by catching drivers who are more likely to pose a danger, and who would not be immediately recognizable to police any other way.

``Checkpoints allow detection of unlicensed or unqualified drivers before some intervening event, such as when an accident or injury to the public occurs,'' lawyers for the city wrote in urging the Supreme Court not to review the men's appeal.

Approximately one in eight drivers in Dayton had no valid license, and about 30 percent of traffic citations issued in the city were for license violations, the city claimed.

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously upheld the roadblocks in May.