The Massachusetts Appeals Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Emerton. In this case, the defendant was arrested at an OUI Roadblock on Soldiers Field Road in Brighton and the case was heard in the Brighton District Court. Soldiers Field road is an area where the State police have been using for years to conduct roadblocks. Under Commonwealth v. Trumble, roadblocks are permitted under Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights if the following questions are satisfied:
- the selection of the cars to be stopped must not be arbitrary;
- safety must be assured
- motorist inconvenience minimized
- the roadblock must be conducted pursuant to a State police plan.
Further, the site selected must be one where there is a problem with a high number of OUI arrest or accidents in the area. In Emerton, the District Court judge found that after reviewing the data that the Commonwealth did not prove a specific problem with that area of Soldiers Field Road and did not provide data showing that most of the arrests were at the time of the hours of the roadblock. The Appeals Court reversed declining to engage in any rigorous review of the data. Essentially, the Court found that the data was specific enough.
The implication of this decision is that it will be very difficult to have a roadblock declared unconstitutional based on an argument that the data does not show a problem with the area. Absent data being missing, the Court does not appear willing to give this data any meaningful review. This case could be appealed further to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
The data in this case was not very specific; the Court may use this case as an opportunity to require a closer nexus between the area of the roadblock and problems with OUI arrests. In most cases, the site is selected based on the fact that there is a large parking lot area for the police to pull cars into. The location of the roadblock is driven by the fact that it must be done in safe area and once the an appropriate location is found, the State police looks for data to justify problems in that general area. The SJC should find that this practical necessity should not override the constitutional requirement that the area selected have a high rate of OUI related arrests.
If you have any questions about defending an arrest at a Massachusetts OUI Roadblock from this weekends Sobriety Checkpoint in Bristol County, feel free to contact Attorney DelSignore on his cell phone or by text at 781-686-5924.