Pohnpei Supreme Court
KOPER XAVIER, KENIO FRANK, ARKANGKEL DAVID,
COSTANTINO WILSON, and AMY NETH,
PTC N0.552-98, 428-98, 330-98,192-98,438-98
RULING ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS
Five cases involving the same issues came before me on May 06,1998, April 08, 1998, and May 13, 1998, for hearing on defendants' motions to dismiss based on two issues:
1. violation of the defendants' constitutional rights guaranteed under Article 4, Section 5, of the F.S.M. Constitution, Article 4, Sections 8(1) and 13, of the Pohnpei Constitution; and
2. that the Pohnpei Vehicle Code, S.L. No. 2L-132-82, never addresses the issue of roadblock stops.
I. Facts and Discussion of Law
In the cases at bar, defendants, who had been stopped at a roadblock by police officers and cited for various road traffic and vehicle violations, by and through their counsel, move this Court for a dismissal of the charges on the basis that roadblocks violate the defendants' ricthts pursuant to Article 4, Section 5, of the F.S.M. Constitution, Article 4, Sections 8(1) and 13, of the Pohnpei Constitution, as well as the State Traffic Code, S.L. 2L-132-82.
Before addressing the constitutionality of roadblocks, it is appropriate to review the provisions of the law upon which the defendants base their argument. The provisions are as follows:
Article 4, Section 5, of the F.S.M. Constitution:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and other possessions against unreasonable search, seizure, or invasion of privacy may not be violated.
Article 4 Section 8(1) of the Pohnpei Constitution:
The right of all people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and property against unreasonable searches and seizures may not be violated.
Article 4 Section 13 of the Pohnpei Constitution:
Subject only to the requirements of public, health, order, and safety, all persons have freedom of travel and movement.
The State Traffic Code, S.L. 2L-132-82, is relevant to these cases but does not address the issue of roadblocks.
The gravamen of defendants' case in their Motions to Dismiss is, when does a search, seizure, or invasion of privacy become unreasonable as to violate defendants' constitutional rights guaranteed by both the F.S.M. and the Pohnpei Constitutions. In addressing this issue, it is necessary first to determine what "unreasonable" means. "Unreasonable" means irrational, foolish, unwise, absurd, silly, preposterous, senseless, or stupid. Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Ed., p. 1707. The said provisions of both constitutions, F.S.M. and State, do not preclude police officers from conducting reasonable searches and seizures, but rather prohibits them from exercising unreasonable searches and seizures. Only unreasonable searches and seizures can be deemed unconstitutional and illegal. Harris v. United States, 331 US 145. Therefore, a search, seizure, or invasion of privacy is unreasonable when the search, seizure, or invasion of privacy is irrational, foolish, unwise, absurd, silly, preposterous, senseless, or stupid. The test of reasonableness cannot be stated in rigid and absolute terms, but each case is to be decided on its own facts and circumstances. Harris v. United States (supra).
While arguing against roadblocks, the defendants' found their motions on the impropriety of random stops by citing dictum in State of Pohnpei vs. Powell, 3A PN.L.R. 695 (1989). They contend that:
Roadblocks are decided by the Police Department and executed by the department's personnel, without reasonable cause to believe that a violation has been committed. See State of Pohnpei v. Powell, PTC No. 417-89, P.L.R. Volume 3A, 695-733, 1989. Powell's Court provides in relevant part as 'The unbridled exercise of discretion by police officers in making random stops for the purpose of enforcing traffic regulations violates the constitutional rights of drivers against unreasonable search, seizure, or invasion of privacy.'"
They also contend that during the registration of vehicles held during January through March 1998, vehicles were inspected by the Department of Justice and certification of inspection, in this case stickers, were issued certifying those vehicles that are safe to be operated on public roads. Instead, police officers at roadblocks, without looking for the stickers, asked for the drivers' licenses and registration cards. The defendants' further contend that the action of the officers conducting the roadblocks seemed to be for the purpose of collecting revenue.
The defendants' argument obliterates the distinction between roadblocks and random stops, thereby relying on the Powell case to support their position. But it is important to note that random stops and roadblocks are two very different acts. Random stops are stops by police officers done in a hazard, or without any settled aim, purpose, or direction. On the other, a roadblock is a barrier erected by the police on a road to stop all on-coming motor vehicular traffic. The major issue in the Powell case was the propriety of random stops not roadblocks. However, even where the police make random stops, it is clear from the cases cited in Powell that random stops are not altogether violative of Fourth Amendment rights. What makes such stops offensive is the unbridled exercise of discretion by the police officers in making such stops. It appears that the circumstances of the stopping of the vehicle and the ensuing inquiry of the driver whether limiter or otherwise and if reasonable or otherwise will determine whether the Fourth Amendment protection is violated. Although police officers may not have probable cause, there must be reasonable suspicion to justify the stopping. State of Pohnpei v. Powell, 3A PN.L.R. 695, 725-726.
Undoubtedly, roandom stops and roadblocks impact on the freedom of travel and movement, but the latter are considered less intrusive. Yet, in the face of a motor vehicle driver's freedom of travel and movement, the Department of Justice has to ensure the safety of the public and must exercise road safety policies such as roadblock stops and spot checks whether drivers are complying with the motor vehicle laws. The defendants' reliance on the Powell case is misconceived; in that the issue in that case was not the propriety or otherwise of roadblocks but rather of random stops, while the issue in the instant cases arose from roadblocks. However, Delaware v. Prouse, 440 US 648, 59 L. Ed., case considered in the Powell case, favored roadblocks. The Court in Delaware v. Prouse (supra) holds that their decision does not preclude the State of Delaware or other States from developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion. It suggests that questioning of all on-coming traffic at a roadblock is one possible alternative to the random stop checks. The case further holds that the majority holding in the Delaware v. Prouse case (supra) seemed to imply that where Delaware or other States develop methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion, such as roadblocks, then this is no violation of a driver's Fourth Amendment rights if there is no probable cause to believe that a driver stopped at that roadblock is violating any applicable traffic and equipment regulation, nor need there be other articulable basis amounting to reasonable suspicion that the driver who has been stopped at a roadblock is unlicensed nor has his vehicle been registered. State v. Powell, 3A PN.L.R. 695, 716-718.
It has become an unfortunate common practice today in Pohnpei that after registering their vehicles, owners with valid drivers' licenses allow family members and friends without drivers' licenses to drive their vehicles on public roads. This practice presents danger to the unlicensed driver himself, is dangerous to other road users and property, and is against public policy. This conduct requires to be checked and stopped, and this can be done through the vigilance of the police to apprehend offenders before harm or damage is done.
Defendants also argue that Sections 601, 602, and 603, of the Pohnpei Traffic Code do not suggest the mounting of roadblocks to check licenses or registration cards, but that these sections merely deal with the duty to keep vehicles in safe and proper equipped conditions if they are operated on public roads, and further argue that roadblocks for the purpose of enforcing the sections are not aimed for public safety but are for collecting revenue. I do not agree with the defendants' argument in this regard. Public policy as relating to freedom of travel and movement is subject to the requirements of public health, order, and safety. Article 4, Section 13, of the Pohnpei Constitution. The defendants' argument is without merit. In my opinion, the police did not exercise unconstrained discretion. In protecting the safety of the public, they restrained the freedom of travel and movement of the defendants within the limits of the Constitution. Roadblocks have been with us as a legitimate exercise of police discretion in the enforcement of road traffic laws since Trust Territory times. No law prohibits them. I am not convinced that raodblocks are unconstitutional. State v. 12 Powell (supra).
II. Conclusion and Ruling 15
The mounting of roadblocks and spot checks by the Department of Justice is not an unconstrained exercise of police discretion that violates people's rights under Article 4, Section 5, of the F.S.M. Constitution and Article 4, Sections 8(1) and 13, of the Pohnpei Constitution.
The motion of each of the defendants named in the caption is therefore hereby denied.
So Ordered this day 30th day of June, 1998.
Entered: June 30, 1998.