Check Yes for Checkpoints: Suspicionless Stops and Ramifications for Missouri Motorists

By Harris, Conner | Missouri Law Review, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Check Yes for Checkpoints: Suspicionless Stops and Ramifications for Missouri Motorists


Harris, Conner, Missouri Law Review


State v. Biggerstaff, 496 S.W.3d 513 (Mo. Ct. App.), transfer denied (Mo. June 28, 2016)

I. INTRODUCTION

One of the great advantages of living in a free society is the enjoyment of general privacy and freedom from unwarranted interference in one's personal affairs. This advantage benefits citizens in both their private and public interactions. For example, it is expected one could drive to the store across town, the mall in a neighboring city, or somewhere on the other side of the country uninterrupted and unhindered. The primary exception to this privacy expectation is that engaging in conduct that violates the law can warrant a stop and seizure by law enforcement. (1)

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution codifies this privacy expectation as a right to be enjoyed by all within its reach. (2) Specifically, the Fourth Amendment protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures." (3) Drawing the line between reasonable and unreasonable is a task with which courts often wrestle. This line has a direct impact on how police officers perform searches and seizures and how the subjects of those searches and seizures are treated in the criminal justice system.

A general component of Fourth Amendment reasonableness is an individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. (4) However, police checkpoints--designated locations which require passing vehicles to stop and submit to a police officer's questioning--have been upheld as constitutional in both federal and state courts as a permissible method of instigating a seizure without individualized suspicion. (5) Checkpoint jurisprudence at the federal level has not yet resulted in concrete requirements for reasonableness, but there are general underlying principles. (6) Missouri courts have likewise abstained from providing any sort of checklist before a checkpoint may be considered reasonable (7) but instead seem to judge each checkpoint on a case-by-case basis, often yielding inconsistent results. (8) A recent decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, State v. Biggerstaff, indicates that checkpoints designed to enforce vehicle equipment laws, also known as enforcement checkpoints, may be set up at any location, at a moment's notice, and for an indefinite duration. (9)

This Note explores and discusses the repercussions of this decision. Part II of this Note explores the facts of State v. Biggerstaff in detail. Part III analyzes the constitutionality of police checkpoints under federal law and in the state of Missouri. Part IV examines the reasoning and holding of the Southern District of Missouri in State v. Biggerstaff Finally, Part V comments on the Southern District of Missouri's rationale in reaching its holding, as well as how this decision will apply to motorists in the future.

II. FACTS AND HOLDING

Stacy Biggerstaff was stopped on April 17, 2013, in the early afternoon at an equipment enforcement checkpoint in Taney County, Missouri. (10) The checkpoint's purpose "was to enforce traffic safety laws, with a focus on driver qualification and the condition of the motor vehicles' safety equipment." (11) Evidence obtained during the stop resulted in Biggerstaff being charged with possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated, and driving with a suspended license. (12) Prior to trial, Biggerstaff motioned to suppress evidence resulting from the traffic stop on the grounds that the checkpoint violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures. (13)

Two relevant documents were admitted into evidence: General Order 64-02, which was promulgated by the Missouri Highway Patrol, and Special Order 24, which was issued by and applicable only to Troop D, the branch of the Missouri Highway Patrol with jurisdiction over Taney County. (14) Both orders laid out general guidelines for conducting checkpoints. (15) The special order included a list of approved locations for checkpoints during daylight hours. …

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