Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz/Dissent Brennan

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Justice BRENNAN, with whom Justice MARSHALL joins, dissenting.

Today, the Court rejects a Fourth Amendment challenge to a sobriety checkpoint policy in which police stop all cars and inspect all drivers for signs of intoxication without any individualized suspicion that a specific driver is intoxicated. The Court does so by balancing "the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped." Ante, at 455. For the reasons stated by Justice STEVENS in Parts I and II of his dissenting opinion, I agree that the Court misapplies that test by undervaluing the nature of the intrusion and exaggerating the law enforcement need to use the roadblocks to prevent drunken driving. See also United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 567, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 3087, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting). I write separately to express a few additional points.

The majority opinion creates the impression that the Court generally engages in a balancing test in order to determine the constitutionality of all seizures, or at least those "dealing with police stops of motorists on public highways." Ante, at 450. This is not the case. In most cases, the police must possess probable cause for a seizure to be judged reasonable. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 209, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 2255, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). Only when a seizure is "substantially less intrusive," id., at 210, 99 S.Ct., at 2255 (emphasis added), than a typical arrest is the general rule replaced by a balancing test. I agree with the Court that the initial stop of a car at a roadblock under the Michigan State Police sobriety checkpoint policy is sufficiently less intrusive than an arrest so that the reasonableness of the seizure may be judged, not by the presence of probable cause, but by balancing "the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty." Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979). But one searches the majority opinion in vain for any acknowledgment that the reason for employing the balancing test is that the seizure is minimally intrusive.

Indeed, the opinion reads as if the minimal nature of the seizure ends rather than begins the inquiry into reasonableness. Once the Court establishes that the seizure is "slight," ante, at 451, it asserts without explanation that the balance "weighs in favor of the state program." Ante, at 455. The Court ignores the fact that in this class of minimally intrusive searches, we have generally required the Government to prove that it had reasonable suspicion for a minimally intrusive seizure to be considered reasonable. See, e.g., Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 1400, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 882-883, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 2581, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1883, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Some level of individualized suspicion is a core component of the protection the Fourth Amendment provides against arbitrary government action. See Prouse, supra, 440 U.S., at 654-655, 99 S.Ct., at 1396; Martinez-Fuerte, supra, 428 U.S., at 577, 96 S.Ct., at 3092 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting) ("Action based merely on whatever may pique the curiosity of a particular officer is the antithesis of the objective standards requisite to reasonable conduct and to avoiding abuse and harassment"). By holding that no level of suspicion is necessary before the police may stop a car for the purpose of preventing drunken driving, the Court potentially subjects the general public to arbitrary or harassing conduct by the police. I would have hoped that before taking such a step, the Court would carefully explain how such a plan fits within our constitutional framework.

Presumably, the Court purports to draw support from Martinez-Fuerte, supra, which is the only case in which the Court has upheld a program that subjects the general public to suspicionless seizures. But as Justice STEVENS demonstrates, post, at 463-466, 471-472, the Michigan State Police policy is sufficiently different from the program at issue in Martinez-Fuerte that such reliance is unavailing. Moreover, even if the policy at issue here were comparable to the program at issue in Martinez-Fuerte, it does not follow that the balance of factors in this case also justifies abandoning a requirement of individualized suspicion. In Martinez-Fuerte, the Court explained that suspicionless stops were justified since "[a] requirement that stops . . . be based on reasonable suspicion would be impractical because the flow of traffic tends to be too heavy to allow the particularized study of a given car that would enable it to be identified as a possible carrier of illegal aliens." 428 U.S., at 557, 96 S.Ct., at 3082-3083. There has been no showing in this case that there is a similar difficulty in detecting individuals who are driving under the influence of alcohol, nor is it intuitively obvious that such a difficulty exists. See Prouse, supra, 440 U.S., at 661, 99 S.Ct., at 1400. That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken driving, but see post, at 469-471, is an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion. "The needs of law enforcement stand in constant tension with the Constitution's protections of the individual against certain exercises of official power. It is precisely the predictability of these pressures that counsels a resolute loyalty to constitutional safeguards." Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266, 273, 93 S.Ct. 2535, 2540, 37 L.Ed.2d 596 (1973). Without proof that the police cannot develop individualized suspicion that a person is driving while impaired by alcohol, I believe the constitutional balance must be struck in favor of protecting the public against even the "minimally intrusive" seizures involved in this case.

I do not dispute the immense social cost caused by drunken drivers, nor do I slight the government's efforts to prevent such tragic losses. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that today's opinion will be received favorably by a majority of our society, who would willingly suffer the minimal intrusion of a sobriety checkpoint stop in order to prevent drunken driving. But consensus that a particular law enforcement technique serves a laudable purpose has never been the touchstone of constitutional analysis.

"The Fourth Amendment was designed not merely to protect against official intrusions whose social utility was less as measured by some 'balancing test' than its intrusion on individual privacy; it was designed in addition to grant the individual a zone of privacy whose protections could be breached only where the 'reasonable' requirements of the probable-cause standard were met. Moved by whatever momentary evil has aroused their fears, officials-perhaps even supported by a majority of citizens-may be tempted to conduct searches that sacrifice the liberty of each citizen to assuage the perceived evil. But the Fourth Amendment rests on the principle that a true balance between the individual and society depends on the recognition of 'the right to be let alone-the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.' Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 [48 S.Ct. 564, 572, 72 L.Ed. 944] (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting)." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 361-362, 105 S.Ct. 733, 753, 83 L.Ed.2d 720 (1985) (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (footnote omitted).

In the face of the "momentary evil" of drunken driving, the Court today abdicates its role as the protector of that fundamental right. I respectfully dissent.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).