For many people, traffic checkpoints operated by police trigger feelings of frustration and annoyance. For others, then can be a source of stress and anxiety. If you are arrested during a police checkpoint, there may still be cause for hope. The law in Maryland imposes some restrictions on what does or does not qualify as a valid checkpoint in terms of complying with the Fourth Amendment. If your checkpoint doesn’t pass that test, then the evidence secured as a result of that checkpoint may be excluded from your criminal case. To find out more about what you can do in your case that arose from a checkpoint, be sure to talk to an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.
C.J. was a man ensnared in something he viewed as a checkpoint. He was driving through downtown Baltimore and, while he sat at the red light, the police initiated a traffic stop. The reason for the stop was that C.J. wasn’t wearing his seat belt. While the police performed their investigation of C.J., they discovered an outstanding warrant and a loaded handgun under the driver’s seat of the vehicle, and they arrested him.
The state charged C.J. with several weapons-related crimes, on top of driving a vehicle without wearing a seat belt. The driver asked the court to throw out the evidence of the gun, arguing that the police discovered the gun as a result of an illegal traffic checkpoint.
If C.J. had been correct about his stop being the result of an illegal traffic checkpoint he might have succeeded on his Fourth Amendment argument. If you’re charged based on evidence the police discovered while you were stopped at a checkpoint, then that gives the opportunity to argue that the search and seizure were illegal, and that damaging evidence was inadmissible.
13 factors for determining if a checkpoint is ‘reasonable under the Fourth Amendment’
In 1984, Maryland’s highest court laid out a list of 13 factors courts should use to decide whether or not a police checkpoint “is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” The list includes, among other items, things like the “degree of discretion, if any, left to the officer in the field,” the amount of advance notice of the checkpoint that the police provided to the public and the “degree of fear or anxiety generated by” means of conducting the checkpoint. If you can prove that your checkpoint failed this group of factors, then the evidence acquired through that checkpoint is inadmissible as a Fourth Amendment violation.
The action that the police were conducting in C.J.’s case did not qualify as an illegal checkpoint, so he did not win his argument. To qualify as a traffic checkpoint, the action must involve the police blocking or impeding all the vehicles or all the vehicles in a “defined sequence” in order to check for some illegal activity. None of that was true in C.J.’s situation. The police simply used visual inspection to investigate drivers who were stopped at red lights in downtown Baltimore, checking for violations such as cell phone use or driving without a seat belt.
If, however, C.J. had been caught with a gun while he was stopped at a DUI checkpoint rather than stopped at a red light in an area targeted for enhanced enforcement of seat belt use and cell phone non-use laws, he might have been able to succeed.
Just because you got “caught” with an illegal item — whether it was drugs or a gun or something else — while passing through a checkpoint, that doesn’t mean that your case is hopeless. Instead of giving up, reach out to skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been effectively representing the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.