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Michigan Appeals Court Tosses Out Sobriety Check Lanes

April 21, 1992

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Letting police set up roadblocks to stop drivers and check them for drunken driving violates citizens’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today.

The 2-1 ruling said that the check lanes, designed to curb drunken driving, violate the state constitution.

″Although we fully recognize the enormity of the problem caused by drunk driving, we do not believe the proposed elimination of Michigan citizens’ rights to be free from suspicionless seizure a proper response to the problem,″ the ruling said.

The case stemmed from a May 17-18, 1986, check lane set up in Saginaw County. During the check lane operation, all vehicles were stopped and the drivers briefly examined for signs of intoxication.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June 1990 on the same case. It found that the check lanes were permissible under the U.S. Constitution. The high court sent the case back to the state courts for a determination of whether they met the requirements of the Michigan Constitution.

The appeals court stuck by its original ruling and said framers of the Michigan Constitution never intended to permit individuals to be stopped without any suspicion that they had done something wrong.

Check lanes would violate Michigan’s longstanding tradition that officers may not indiscriminately stop automobiles without some reasonable grounds to believe that criminal activity is going on, the court said.

A change in that tradition, the appeals court said, should be made only by the state Supreme Court, not the appeals court.

The court said that was especially true since only one driver was arrested after 126 stops. Another driver drove through the check lane without stopping and also was arrested on a charge of drunken driving.

Attorney General Frank Kelley had tried to persuade the appeals court that the roadblocks were constitutional. Through a spokesman, he said this morning that no decision had been made yet on whether to appeal.

In a dissent to the 2-1 majority opinion, Judge Roman S. Gribbs said courts have held that the state Constitution’s rules on searches and seizures are no stiffer than those of the federal document.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the roadblocks do not violate the federal constitution, he said, the state court should rule likewise about the state constitutuion.

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