Court Holds All Police Checkpoints to Same Standard
A divided Pennsylvania Superior Court has declined to find different standards for determining the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints versus other types of police checkpoints, in this case one for monitoring seatbelt law compliance.
The majority in Commonwealth v. Garibay found evidence to support the police’s choice of the time and location of any checkpoint are key factors in determining the constitutionality of the checkpoint.
In ruling 6-3 to suppress evidence in the DUI case against defendant Cipriano Garibay, the majority reemphasized precedent that the Tarbert/Blouseguidelines used to determine the constitutionality of a DUI checkpoint equally apply to non-DUI checkpoints like the one that resulted in Garibay’s arrest.
“Essentially, the commonwealth argues that, while police must comply with the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines in setting up DUI checkpoints, a lesser standard exists for establishing a non-DUI checkpoint,” Judge Patricia H. Jenkins said for the majority. “We do not agree.”
The majority found that the checkpoint at issue in Garibay’s case, which was set up on a busy road in Pittsburgh as part of the state’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign to check for seatbelt use, did not meet the standards outlined by the 1987 Supreme Court case Commonwealth v. Tarbert and the 1992 Supreme Court case Commonwealth v. Blouse. Jenkins said the police’s decision to set up the checkpoint based solely on the criteria that the road was heavily trafficked was not enough analytical data to show why the checkpoint was set up at that location during that specified time.
“Sergeant Howe’s generalized testimony provided no specifics whatsoever regarding accidents, arrests, citations, violations, etc., regarding seatbelt usage or non-usage at the specific checkpoint location, nor did it present any insight into the selection of the checkpoint time and duration,” Jenkins said in recounting the state’s testimony at the suppression hearing.
In her dissent, Judge Paula F. Ott said the majority “unnecessarily advocates a strict application” of the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines’ time and location factors. Ott cited the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge’s opinion in the case in noting that evidence of DUIs occurring during a certain time and location is a factor in DUI checkpoints. But she said they are not as essential in a seatbelt checkpoint given the police’s goal of ensuring its message to wear a seatbelt gets out to as many drivers as possible. Therefore, the busy-road factor is “‘paramount,’” Ott said, citing the trial court.