Court rules drivers are free to turn away from roadblocks
WAILUKU » The Hawaii Supreme Court has decided that police should not stop a vehicle solely on the suspicion that it is avoiding a drunken-driving roadblock.
While the decision overturns a drunken-driving conviction on the Valley Isle, police in all four major counties said its impact on law enforcement operations is expected to be minimal.
Police said generally, traffic enforcement officers do not stop a vehicle for making a turn away from the drunken-driving roadblock, unless the maneuver is illegal or done in an erratic way that justifies a stop.
Police said most of their checkpoints are located on roads where making a turn would be illegal.
Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who filed a dissenting opinion, said he felt the police stop on Maui was legal.
Moon noted that the police officer had a reasonable suspicion that the driver was avoiding the drunken-driving checkpoint, because the vehicle turned into a road leading to sugar cane fields and the Maui Humane Society Animal Shelter, which was closed.
Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa said the court decision will not affect Honolulu police, but the department shares the chief justice's concern for protecting the public from drunken drivers.
"Although the recent ruling will not affect how the Honolulu Police Department conducts its roadblocks, we share with Chief Justice Moon's concern and how drunk drivers can endanger the public," said Capt. Frank Fujii, spokesman of the Honolulu Police Department.
Last year, Honolulu police arrested 3,297 people for drunken driving, a slight increase from an estimated 3,167 people arrested for the same offense in 2005.
Peter Hanano, Maui County's first deputy, said he felt the police had a reasonable suspicion.
"I guess the Supreme Court is requiring more. ... We've got to respect that and abide by that."
Maui police Lt. Jeffrey Tanoue of the Traffic Division said he cannot recall any similar cases and that police usually make stops of vehicles avoiding checkpoints only if the turn is illegal or they are speeding.
The court decision stems from a drunken-driving roadblock established by Maui County police on Mokulele Highway between Kahului and Kihei on June 16, 2004.
California resident Raymond Heapy, 56, turned off Mokulele Highway onto Mehameha Loop before the roadblock that evening, and a police officer followed Heapy's vehicle and stopped it based on suspicion the driver was trying to avoid the roadblock.
Heapy and his wife told the officer that they were lost and had turned off the road to look at a map, defense attorney Michelle Drewyer said.
Heapy's blood alcohol was 0.083 percent, just above the 0.080 limit for drunken driving.
Heapy entered a conditional no-contest plea to the drunken-driving charge, with the understanding that the allegation would be dropped if he won on appeal.
Drewyer said the significance of the decision is that police can no longer make a stop based purely on the suspicion that someone is avoiding a drunken-driving checkpoint.
Star-Bulletin reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.