CASE NAME and LINK:
- The Massachusetts Appeals Court, in a unanimous 3-0 decision written by Associate Justice Granger, reversed the District Court’s granting of a suppression motion in a drunk driving (OUI) case.
- The District Court had suppressed evidence gathered via a sobriety checkpoint based on the fact that the “written operational plan” had not been strictly followed.
- The Appeals Court found that such errors did not introduce the constitutional problems of “arbitrariness and discretion” into the police actions.
- Associate Justice Andrew R. Grainger (author of opinion)
- Associate Justice Amy Lyn Blake
- Associate Justice Eric Neyman
- Unanimous reversal, 3-0, written by Justice Grainger.
- The town of Abington’s police department and Massachusetts State Police jointly set up a sobriety checkpoint late one night.
- Abington police officers stopped the defendant, took him out of his car, conducted sobriety tests with him, and then arrested him for OUI.
- The town police officers, as well as four State troopers, failed to submit the “officer activity reports.”
- One police officer failed to sign the duty roster affirming that he had reviewed the “written operational plan” and State police General Order TRF-15, which governed sobriety checkpoints.
- The defendant moved to suppress the evidence secured from the sobriety checkpoint because the checkpoint was not conducted in strict and absolute compliance with the “written operational plan.”
TRIAL COURT HOLDING:
- The District Court granted the motion to suppress.
- The District Court found that four deviations from the “written operational plan” supported suppression:
- A number of officers arrived after the reporting time detailed in the plan.
- The captain failed to perform his supervisory duties during the time he was briefing officers who arrived late.
- One State trooper, who was not the officer involved with stopping the defendant’s vehicle, did not sign the duty roster affirming he had reviewed the plan.
- And after the roadblock was completed, several officers failed to submit a report as required by the plan.
APPEALS COURT OPINION:
- The Appeals Court reversed, and ordered the motion denied.
- “Discrepancies with the plan do not necessarily convert a vehicle checkpoint into a constitutionally unreasonable seizure. See Commonwealth v. Aivano, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 247, 250-251 (2012).”
- The points noted by the District Court did not support suppression because:
- The roadblock started on time and with the mandatory minimum number of officers.
- The defendant was dealt with by officers who had arrived on time.
- “ § 5.1 of the State police Division Commander’s Order 13-DFS-008, which governed highway safety programs, allows the possibility of officers arriving after the roadblock has been established.”
- There was no proof that the lone State trooper who failed to sign the duty roster “had not been briefed appropriately or was unaware of his responsibilities under the plan as he turned in the required officer activity report.”
- “The failure of four State troopers and all of the town police officers to fill out officer activity reports at the completion of the roadblock also did not introduce the use of discretion during the actual roadblock.” “[N]one of these deviations introduced constitutionally prohibited ‘arbitrariness and discretion’ into the actions of the screening officer…. Commonwealth v. Anderson, 406 Mass. 343, 349 (1989)”
- The discrepancies did not introduce “’ an opportunity for discretionary departure by law enforcement in the field from the dictates of the plan.’ [Aivano at 250].”
- “The discrepancies did not have any effect on the defendant, and did not violate any of his personal rights.”
The Appeals Court reaffirmed Commonwealth v. Aivano, 81 Mass. App. Ct. 247 (2012)’s holding that the key to suppression of a sobriety checkpoint’s fruits is whether the police actions violated the defendant’s personal and constitutional rights, not whether certain written procedures were followed.