Police officers set up a highway checkpoint a week after a fatal hit-and-run accident in an effort to garner information about the perpetrator. As each vehicle approached the checkpoint, an officer would stop the vehicle for 10 to 15 seconds, ask the occupants if they had any information about the offense, and hand the driver an informational flyer. The defendant drove his vehicle in an erratic manner toward the checkpoint. When stopped, the officer detected the odor of alcohol on the defendant’s person, asked him to perform a field sobriety test, and arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Whether a checkpoint to gather information from potential witnesses to a crime violates the Fourth Amendment?
No. As the government minimized the disruptive features of a checkpoint seizure and had a compelling reason for seeking the information, their seizure was reasonable.
In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, the Supreme Court held that traffic checkpoints designed for general crime control purposes were unconstitutional. However, the checkpoint in this case is appreciably different as its primary purpose was to seek information from the public about a serious crime that was committed by someone else.
Specialized governmental interests can justify traffic checkpoints that are not supported by individualized suspicion. See Michigan v. Sitz and United States v. Martinez-Fuerte. In a situation in which the government is seeking information from the public, individualized suspicion is irrelevant to the government’s purpose. Also, such brief government-public encounters are unlikely to provoke anxiety or become intrusive. The government is not apt to ask questions that make members of the public uncomfortable or incriminate themselves. The checkpoint “advanced this grave public concern to a significant degree. The police appropriately tailored their checkpoint stops to fit important criminal investigatory needs. The stops took place about one week after the hit-and-run accident, on the same highway near the location of the accident, and at about the same time of night. And police used the stops to obtain information from drivers, some of whom might well have been in the vicinity of the crime at the time it occurred.” Based on these factors, the Court held the minimal intrusion of the checkpoint was reasonable.
540 U.S. 419, 124 S. Ct. 885 (2004)