Bibb County deputies are revamping their policies and procedures for roadblocks in light of a Monday Georgia Supreme Court opinion that deputies violated a mans rights during a 2010 sobriety checkpoint near downtown Macon.
The court ruled that deputies violated 34-year-old James Kemp Williams Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures because the sheriffs offices written roadblock program policies allow deputies to conduct checkpoints for advancing general interest in crime control, making the policy more broad than the Constitution allows.
Sheriff David Davis said he issued a directive Monday morning asking deputies to prioritize revamping the departments policies and procedures to better fit the law. The policies and procedures already are being examined in preparation for deputies consolidating with Macon police in January.
Deputies assigned to the Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic unit set up a checkpoint at about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 27, 2010, at the intersection of Washington and Orange streets. A sign identifying the checkpoint was posted for drivers coming from downtown bars, and three parked patrol cars had their blue lights on, according to the ruling.
Testimony shows every vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint unless traffic was backed up. At those times, the checkpoint was temporarily shut down until traffic cleared.
Williams, of Macon, drove up at about 2 a.m., and a deputy alleges he smelled alcohol while asking for Williams drivers license and proof of insurance. Williams refused to blow into a portable breath tester, according to the ruling.
At some point, he allegedly admitted to having a couple of beers. Although a deputy started a field sobriety test to see if Williams was safe to drive, Williams refused to complete the test, according to the ruling.
He was charged with DUI and violation of the open container law. Williams was the only person arrested at the checkpoint.
Williams lawyer, William Noland, filed a motion asking a Bibb County State Court judge to suppress evidence against Williams, but the judge denied the motion.
Noland said he is concerned by the lack of institutional oversight required of deputies checkpoints.
No documentation is required for when a checkpoint is planned, and deputies dont have to report back after a roadblock is held, he said.
Other than the arrest reports, there isnt any documentation anywhere that this roadblock happened, Noland said.
Although testimony showed that the sheriffs office checkpoint program includes sobriety checks, there wasnt any testimony or other evidence to show that the program excluded checkpoints for general crime control. If the primary purpose of the checkpoint program is crime-fighting, checkpoints operated under that program are unconstitutional, according to Mondays ruling.
The sheriffs office Law Enforcement Operations Manual states, Vehicles may also be stopped at general roadblocks which serve legitimate law enforcement purposes. If evidence of a crime is observed, an officer has the right to take reasonable investigative steps.
The manual defines law enforcement purposes as vehicle safety, driver sobriety, drug interdiction, measures to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing and to advance the general interest in crime control.
Bibb County State Court Solicitor Rebecca Grist said charges will be dismissed against Williams as a result of the courts ruling, but prosecutors can still move forward with other cases involving deputies roadblocks.
Historically, courts have been more concerned with whether a checkpoint was performed appropriately and havent focused on law enforcement agencies checkpoint programs. Questions about the sheriffs offices program werent raised in Williams pre-trial hearings, so the prosecution didnt offer full testimony regarding the program, Grist said.
Its never been an issue in the past, she said. Now we know that they want us to delve into that kind of evidence.