Massachusetts Court addresses whether officers can inquire about alcohol consumption when greeting motorist at OUI Roadblock
As a Massachusetts OUI Lawyer, roadblocks arrests tend to be very defensible cases both at trial and prior to trial as there are many legal issues that can be raised as a defense to the initial stop. In the recent case of Commonwealth v. John Gray, 2013 Mass. LEXIS 829 (Mass. October 17, 2013), the Massachusetts SJC addressed whether there was compliance with the State police plan when Gray drove up to the roadblock and was eventually arrested for a Third Offense OUI.
The SJC in the Gray decision reaffirmed the requirement that a sobriety checkpoint must observe strict adherence to the state guidelines, but remanded the case to the trial judge to determine whether the guidelines include division orders granting screening officers more power than TR-15.
With regard to the particular checkpoint where Gray was stopped, a State police Major had ordered its execution in compliance with TRF-15 as well as a "written operations plan" that the Major had approved. The state prosecutors argued that the "written operations plan" included an additional Division Commander's Order 10-DFS-35 which authorizes the initial screening officer to briefly question a driver about his or her alcohol consumption if the officer observes signs of intoxication. This additional authority, however, is not included in the TRF-15 state guidelines. Under the TR-15, the initial screening officer is only authorized to greet the driver, and then redirect the vehicle from traffic for further questioning by another officer if the screening officer forms a reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated (or committed another offense).
Gray argued that Order 10-DFS-35 was not part of the written operations plan, and so the screening officer who initially greeted Mr. Gray violated TRF-15 when the officer engaged in questioning Gray. The Supreme Judicial Court remanded the case to the trial judge to determine whether 10-DFS-35 did actually constitute the written operations plan, and so whether the screening officer was acting within his state-authorized power.
As a Massachusetts OUI Attorney, it will be interesting to see how the district court rules on remand. I would expect the district court to find that the Division Order was not part of the State police plan and that TR-15 is the sole authority directing how officers are to greet motorists approaching a roadblock. Accordingly, the district court should allow the motion after remand which would result in the 3rd Offense charge being dismissed as the roadblock was not set up in conformity with Article 12 of the Massachusetts Constitution.