Supreme Judicial Court (July 23, 2009)

The State Police Sobriety Checkpoint Guidelines (TR-15) are constitutionally sound, because: 1) the guidelines permit a vehicle to be diverted to secondary screening only when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts that the driver has committed an Operating Under the Influence Offense or some other violation of law; and 2) the discretion provided to the initial screening officers in greeting motorists at a sobriety checkpoint is appropriately limited.

Both defendants were arrested at roadblocks established by the State Police as part of a sobriety checkpoint program to detect and deter drunk driving and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The roadblocks were conducted pursuant to State Police General Order TRF-15 (TRF-15), which sets forth protocols and guidelines governing sobriety checkpoints, supplemented by orders and instructions specific to each roadblock included in the saturation patrol and sobriety checkpoint operational plans and directives. The defendants challenged TRF-15 in two areas claiming the guidelines were unconstitutional:

Discretion of the screening officer:
At the time of the defendants' arrests, TRF-15 allowed, but did not require, an officer who makes an initial stop of a vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint to divert the vehicle to a secondary screening area for further inquiry when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that the driver was operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or has committed another violation of law. The district court judge in each case allowed the defendants' motions to suppress evidence, concluding that the guidelines contained in TRF-15 were unconstitutional on their face because they give officers discretion to decide which drivers stopped at the initial checkpoint would be directed to a secondary screening.

The SJC disagreed ruling that TRF-15 falls within constitutional parameters, because its guidelines permit a vehicle to be diverted to secondary screening only when the officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that the driver has committed an OUI violation or another violation of law.

Unconstitutional roadblock v. sobriety checkpoint:
The defendant's second challenge (Murphy) to TFR-15 was that the sobriety checkpoint was an unconstitutional roadblock to search generally for contraband or criminal activity, because officers were directed to divert vehicles to secondary screening if they observed contraband or otherwise reasonably suspected a felony or narcotic law violation. The SJC concluded that a sobriety checkpoint does not become a roadblock whose purpose is to search for evidence of drug trafficking and other contraband simply because officers are directed that, when looking for signs of intoxication, they are not to ignore contraband or evidence of criminal activity in plain view.

Note: On April 23, 2009 the language of TRF-15 was changed from "may" to "shall" requiring the officer to divert a driver to a secondary screening area when reasonable suspicion exists that the driver was operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs or had committed another violation of law.