People v Cabrera
Court Discusses Whether the Conduction of a Checkpoint was Unconstitutional
The defendant was arrested for driving while intoxicated DWI after being stopped at a police vehicle checkpoint. The defendant requested a pre-trial suppression of his breathalyzer results on the ground that the conduction of the checkpoint was unconstitutional.
At the hearing, the sole witness for the People, the officer who conducted the arrest, testified that he was a competent police officer who conducted over one hundred driving while intoxicated arrests. The officer stated that he received instructions from his supervisors and they were also, on the scene. His instructions were to stop every four or five cars going in the westbound direction and had stopped approximately 20 to 25 vehicles. The officer also stated that before he stopped the defendant he merely asked the other drivers for their driver’s license and look for the registration stickers. However, when the defendant was pulled over the officer stated that he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath, he had a red face and watery eyes and the defendant admitted to drinking two beers. The defendant then exited the car where the officer stated that was a little unsteady. He was arrested and submitted to a breathalyzer test. The defendant’s Queens County Criminal Lawyer relied on the case of the People v. Scott (63 NY2d 518 ) to show that the checkpoint was illegal as it was unclear the purpose and parameters of the checkpoint. It was asserted by defense counsel that the main focus of the checkpoint was whether or not the drivers’ licenses and registration were valid rather than to promote public safety issues. The effect of the checkpoint was to detect and prosecute regulatory offenses under the VTL rather than driving while intoxicated offenses that were in the interest of public safety.
The criminal trial judge cited the Matter of Muhammad F., 94 NY2d at 141 which held that checkpoint violated the Fourth Amendment prescription against warrantless and suspicionless stops, therefore, it has to be shown that checkpoints were conducted in a non-discriminatory manner by conducting the checkpoints under rigid protocols formally set out by their superiors and that the officers did not exercise individual discretion as to which cars to stop or what questions to ask. The case of the People v Jackson , 99 NY2d was also cited to show that a vehicle should not merely be stopped in furtherance of general crime control but there ought to be programmatic objective.
Therefore, the People failed to prove the actual purpose of the checkpoint through the testimony of the officer as there was no basis to assess how the seizure addressed the public concerns. It could be said that the checkpoint was set up was to prevent drunk driving as it was an area prone to dangerous activities, however, the court could not draw such an inference. The officer’s testimony did not enlighten the court about why that particular area was chosen, what security or safety concerns were to be addressed. There was evidence that the stopping of the motor vehicles were not discretionary as he stopped every fourth or fifth car. But the overall purpose of the checkpoint was unknown as it might have been prohibit general criminal activities. As such, the breathalyzer result was suppressed.
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