In Fulton County, as in many other places in Georgia, law enforcement officers occasionally conduct Roadside Sobriety Checkpoints in an effort to catch anyone who is driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you approach one of these checkpoints while sober, you may be tempted to turn around or turn onto another street so as to avoid the potentially time-consuming process of waiting your turn at the checkpoint. However, you may wonder whether or not this action is permitted, as it could be misconstrued by law enforcement that you are only turning around because you are inebriated and trying to avoid getting arrested.
One case that addresses this issue and can provide some guidance on this subject is that of Terry v. State. In this 2007 case, the defendant, Jason Terry, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. On the night of New Year's Eve 2004, Terry was driving on the campus of the University of West Georgia when he approached a road check that had been set up by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. According to the court, “[a]t around 11:45, Officer Stephan Stollar observed a vehicle, subsequently determined to have been operated by Terry, turning into an entranceway leading to buildings that were closed at that time of night.” The driver of the vehicle then “backed his vehicle into the roadway and drove away from the roadblock in a direction opposite from the one in which he had been traveling.” The officer subsequently decided to pull that vehicle over because the officer believed the driver was trying to avoid the roadblock and as the driver made the turn to go in the opposite direction, he blocked the road. It was upon stopping the vehicle and observing the suspect that Officer Stollar determined Terry was under the influence.
Terry later moved to suppress all the evidence gathered after the traffic stop on various grounds, including that Stollar lacked reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify initiating the traffic stop in that he had not observed Terry drive erratically or commit any traffic violation.
The lower court denied this motion. When conducting an investigative stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to do so. The appellate court reflected on a prior case with similar facts where they had found the stop to be illegal because “the record was devoid of any articulable fact which would support the officer's intuition that the defendant was avoiding the roadblock.” As that case had determined that if a driver is operating his or her vehicle normally, even if the driver “incidentally evades the roadblock,” this is not enough of a reason to pull that driver over. The court has also previously held that if an officer believes he sees a traffic violation or thinks that the driver has taken unusual actions to avoid the roadblock, this could give rise to sufficient reasonable suspicion so as to justify a stop.
Thus, the court concluded that “Stollar was authorized to conclude that in turning off the roadway, engaging in a possibly illegal backing maneuver, and then driving away in the opposite direction, Terry was attempting to avoid the road check.” The court further stated that “[r]egardless of whether Terry's driving maneuvers were illegal, the trial court did not err in finding that they were at least unusual enough to justify further investigation.”
Based on the above case and prior case law, in general it is permissible for you to turn around before a roadblock if you see one up ahead. However, be aware that if you violate any traffic laws or an officer has reasonable suspicion that you are acting to avoid the roadblock, then the officer may decide to pull you over.
If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI in Fulton County, it is a good idea to contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, like those at the Law Offices of Richard Lawson.