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VERIFY: Are police roadblocks legal?

Generally speaking, police can't randomly stop cars unless they have "reason to believe," there's a crime or a traffic violation.

MACON, Ga. — Imagine this: You're on your way home from a holiday party, and you pull up to a police roadblock. 

Is it legal for police to stop you without cause? 

To answer, we spoke with a Macon DUI attorney, looked at a Georgia Supreme Court Case from Bibb County, and checked in with Georgia State Patrol.

Attorney Ann Parman specializes in DUI cases and has practiced law for over 20 years. She graduated from Mercer University's law school and the National College for DUI Defense.

Clients ask her this question all the time: Are roadblocks legal? 

"We can have roadblocks, as long as they are reasonable," Parman said.

That's the short answer. It gets more complicated when she explains the restrictions.

Generally speaking, police can't randomly stop cars unless they have "reason to believe," there's a crime or a traffic violation. Without those reasons, it could violate the 4th amendment in the Bill of Rights, which protects you from illegal government search and seizure.

Is it okay for all cars to be stopped at the roadblock?

"You have to have a primary purpose, and it has to be a legitimate primary purpose," Parman said.

The checkpoint has to serve a specific public-safety purpose, like catching drunk drivers on I-16 over St. Patrick's Day weekend.  

"It can't be because we want to do a screening of the crime in this area. No, no, no. That is not constitutional," Parman said.

In 2013, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on a Bibb County case, Williams v. The State. The ruling came after a Macon man argued that the Bibb County Sheriff's Office violated his 4th amendment rights by stopping him at a checkpoint.

The judges said his arrest was unconstitutional, because officers didn't have a legitimate purpose for the roadblock.

By phone, Lieutenant Stephanie Stallings, director of public information with Georgia State Patrol, said roadblocks must cover a set time and location. All vehicles must be stopped, officers have to wear reflective vests, and the site must be clearly identified as a check point.

Are you legally required to stop at roadblocks?

"Yes, it's no different than if someone was directing traffic, and they've asked you to stop," Stallings said.

So if you do roll up on a roadblock this holiday season, be ready to pull out your license and registration.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, police do not have to publicize roadblocks in advance, but they have to make them obvious to drivers by having flashing signs, blue lights, and clearly identifiable uniforms. 

MORE HOLIDAY VERIFYS

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