These summaries of case decisions are intended for informational purposes only. They are not intended to be interpretations of the law, nor do they encompass the subtleties of each case. Therefore, reference to the original text is indispensable.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Commonwealth v. Aivano, 81 Mass.App.Ct. 247

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Feb. 3, 2012

Facts: In August 2010, the State police announced a sobriety checkpoint in a press release and conducted the checkpoint. The press release stated that the checkpoint would take place on a “Secondary State Highway” but the road on which the checkpoint actually took place was technically a municipal public way. The defendants were all stopped at the checkpoint and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor.

Procedural History: The defendants moved to suppress evidence obtained incident to the checkpoint stops. The trial court granted the motions to suppress because of the discrepancy between the press release and the actual location of the checkpoint.

Issue: Was the checkpoint unconstitutional because of the discrepancy between the press release’s description of where it would occur and the actual nature of the site of the checkpoint?

No. While it is true that the police may not arbitrarily stop motorists, sobriety checkpoints may be conducted if the vehicles stopped are not chosen arbitrarily, safety is assured, there is minimal motor inconvenience, and there is assurance that a plan is being followed. Having a plan eliminates the possibility of arbitrariness, and therefore the plan must be adhered to. Announcing in a press release that the checkpoint will take place reduces surprise, fear, and inconvenience of motorists, but such a press release is not required.

Here, the checkpoint was conducted according to a predetermined plan and was not deviated from. Further, there is no evidence that the police intended to mislead by misstating the legal nature of the road on which the checkpoint would be conducted. Considering that the press release was not a constitutional requirement, the minor discrepancy did not render the checkpoint unconstitutional. Therefore, the defendants’ motions to suppress are reversed.

Conclusion: The misstatement of the legal nature of the road on which a sobriety checkpoint would take place is insufficient to render the checkpoint unconstitutional. (AE)