Police checkpoints or “roadblocks” have become an increasingly utilized law enforcement tool. At best, these checkpoints result in only a minor inconvenience to motorists. When abused, however, roadblocks have the potential for invidious invasions of privacy and personal freedom. Roadblocks are designed to deter, and to a lesser extent detect, criminal activity by stopping everyone—both the guilty and the law-abiding—for a brief inspection, thereby impinging to some degree on one's freedom of travel, privacy, and “right to be let alone.” Such “seizures” must be “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment in order to survive constitutional challenge. The major difference between roadblocks and other law enforcement seizures is that at roadblocks the traditional justifications for seizures are absent; motorists are stopped without regard to suspicion of criminal conduct. Individual rights are thus sacrificed to promote what many courts have considered to be greater public interests, such as the apprehension of drunken drivers. In Maine, however, roadblocks have been approved for use in combating societal problems which are much less urgent. For example, the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, has found roadblocks to be a constitutionally permissible means of law enforcement not only for the purpose of apprehending drunken drivers, but also for such other objectives as enforcing fish and game regulations, inspecting vehicle safety equipment, and checking for valid driver's licenses and registrations. The Law Court's willingness to permit roadblocks to effectuate such ordinary and routine state interests as checking to make sure that a driver is carrying a valid driver's license or that his headlights work should raise serious doubts as to the continuing vitality of Fourth Amendment protections in Maine. Moreover, the dearth of forthright analysis found in the court's decisions on the subject raises the question of whether the Law Court has abdicated its responsibility as the protector of such important constitutional rights as freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Ultimately, Fourth Amendment analysis involves a balance between the societal interest in apprehending criminals versus the societal interest in privacy and personal liberty. This Comment asserts that, in its roadblock decisions, the Law Court has focused almost exclusively on the “law and order” side of the equation while virtually ignoring the countervailing interest in individual liberties. In addition, by evaluating several recent Law Court cases in light of the relevant United States Supreme Court decisions, this Comment demonstrates that the Law Court has failed to forthrightly apply Supreme Court precedent.
Jonathan A. Block,
Please Stop: The Law Court's Recent Roadblock Decisions,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol44/iss2/7