DUI. Fulton State Court. Before Judge Morrison.
William C. Head; Merchant Law Firm, Ashleigh B. Merchant, for appellant.
Carmen D. Smith, Solicitor-General, R . Leon Benham, Assistant Solicitor-General, for appellee.
Renee Armentrout was stopped at a police checkpoint and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Following a stipulated bench trial, she was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent it was less safe for her to do so (DUI less safe) and driving under the influence of alcohol with an excessive blood-alcohol concentration (DUI per se). On appeal, Armentrout contends that the trial court erred in denying her motions to suppress evidence recovered from the traffic stop and the results of the State-administered chemical test, arguing that the checkpoint was unlawful and the police officer's reading of the implied-consent warning was misleading. For the reasons set forth infra, we agree that the checkpoint was unlawful and, thus, reverse Armentrout's convictions.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court's findings and judgment, the evidence shows that on June 29, 2011, Sergeant Ronnie Young--an officer in the Johns Creek Police Department (who supervised day-to-day traffic-enforcement operations)--submitted a written proposal to his superior officer to establish a traffic task force, which would conduct several traffic-safety checkpoints during the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. In addition to specifying the times and locations for the checkpoints, the proposal noted that the goal of the task force was to " establish safety checkpoints to enhance safe travel" through the city and that the " primary purpose of who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol." Young's superior approved the proposal, and Johns Creek police officers (including Sergeant Young) began implementing the checkpoints two days later.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. on July 4, 2011, Armentrout stopped at the traffic checkpoint that officers had established at the intersection of Bell Road and Cauley Creek Drive. Upon approaching Armentrout's [332 Ga.App. 371] vehicle and requesting her driver's license, Sergeant Young smelled alcohol and noticed that Armentrout's eyes were watery. Additionally, Armentrout spoke with a slight slur and admitted that she had been drinking " a little bit." Then, after administering an alco-sensor breath test (which returned a positive result), Sergeant Young asked another officer to have Armentrout perform field-sobriety tests. The second officer did so, and the tests indicated that Armentrout was indeed impaired. Consequently, the officer arrested Armentrout, read her the implied-consent notice, and asked if she would consent to a blood-alcohol test. When Armentrout initially asked what would happen if she refused, the officer read the relevant part of the implied-consent notice to her again. Armentrout then consented to testing, which showed that her blood-alcohol concentration exceeded the legal limit.
The State charged Armentrout, via accusation, with one count of driving under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it was less safe for her to do so (DUI less safe) and one count of driving under the influence of alcohol with an excessive blood-alcohol concentration (DUI per se). Shortly thereafter, Armentrout filed a motion to suppress the evidence garnered as a result of the traffic stop, arguing that the checkpoint was unlawful, as well as a separate motion in
limine to exclude the blood-alcohol test results, arguing that the officer's re-reading of the implied-consent notice was misleading. But after holding a combined evidentiary hearing on these issues, the trial court denied both of her motions. Subsequently, Armentrout agreed to a stipulated bench trial, which concluded with the trial court finding her guilty on both the DUI per se and DUI less safe charges. This appeal follows.
At the outset, we note that when the facts material to a motion to suppress are disputed, " it generally is for the trial judge to resolve those disputes and determine the material facts."  This principle is well established, and our Supreme Court has " identified three corollaries of the principle, which limit the scope of review in appeals from a grant or denial of a motion to suppress in which the trial court has made express findings of disputed facts."  An appellate court generally must (1) accept a trial court's findings unless they are clearly [332 Ga.App. 372] erroneous, (2) construe the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the factual findings and judgment of the trial court, and (3) limit its consideration of the disputed facts to those expressly found by the trial court. But we review de novo the trial court's " application of law to the undisputed facts."  With these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to Armentrout's claims of error.
1. Armentrout contends that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress, arguing that the checkpoint was unlawful because the State failed to prove that the Johns Creek Police Department's overall checkpoint program had a legitimate primary purpose. We agree.
The Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to permit police roadblocks or checkpoints, holding that although the stops need not be based on probable cause, they must still be conducted in a manner making them reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. And when a defendant challenges his initial stop at a police checkpoint by way of a motion to ...