Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz

PETITIONER: Michigan Department of State Police
LOCATION: Michigan State Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 88-1897
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 496 US 444 (1990)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 14, 1990

Mark Granzotto - Argued the cause for the respondents
Stephen L. Nightingale - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
Thomas L. Casey - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1986, the Michigan State Police Department created a sobriety checkpoint program aimed at reducing drunk driving within the state. The program included guidelines governing the location of roadblocks and the amount of publicity to be given to the operation. Before the first roadblock went into effect, Rick Sitz, a licensed Michigan driver, challenged the checkpoints and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. Sitz was victorious in the Michigan lower courts.


Did the drunk driving checkpoints violate motorists' privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1990 in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 88-1897, the Michigan Department of State Police v. Rick Sitz.

Mr. Casey.

Thomas L. Casey:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

In a series of cases involving Fourth Amendment challenges to various traffic-checking procedures, the Court has applied a balancing test which weighs the public interest against the right of individuals to be free from arbitrary interference.

In these cases, the Court recognized that different procedures involve different balances and different constitutional safeguards.

For example, probable cause is required for a search of a vehicle either by a roving patrol or at a fixed checkpoint.

A seizure of an automobile by a roving patrol is permissible if it is based on reasonable suspicion, and in Martinez-Fuerte the Court held that seizure of an automobile at a fixed checkpoint is permissible without individualized suspicion if there are neutral and objective guidelines which limit the discretion of officers in the field and limit the nature of the intrusion.

The case today presents no new legal issues.

The only question is whether Michigan's temporary sobriety checkpoints are like the roving patrols in Delaware v. Prouse or, as we argue, are more like the fixed checkpoints in Martinez-Fuerte in which no individualized suspicion is required.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Casey, this action was brought as a facial challenge of some kind to the program?

Thomas L. Casey:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And the plaintiffs in the case are simply citizens who drive in Michigan?

Thomas L. Casey:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

No one was a plaintiff named in the case who had been stopped at a checkpoint?

Thomas L. Casey:

The complaint was filed before any sobriety checkpoints had been operated.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think that the plaintiffs have standing?

Thomas L. Casey:

I believe they do.

The case--


Thomas L. Casey:

--The case was brought under the Michigan declaratory judgment action by the plaintiffs in their capacity as licensed drivers in the State of Michigan who allege that if sobriety checkpoints were operated there was a very great likelihood that they would be subject to the checkpoints.

We agree.

If the checkpoints were operated, these individual plaintiffs would be subjected to them.

We think there is a sufficient case or controversy to confer standing in both the state courts and in this Court, even without waiting for a particular operation of the checkpoint.

Antonin Scalia:

Suppose the police department has a policy of applying choke holds to people resisting arrest.

Would... would any citizen have standing to challenge that practice?

Thomas L. Casey:

In that case, the--

Antonin Scalia:

On the theory that he might be arrested and the choke hold applied to him.

Thomas L. Casey:

--The likelihood of any individual citizen being subjected to that police tactic is not as high as the likelihood that individual citizens in Michigan will be subjected to sobriety checkpoints.

So we think our case... the plaintiffs do have sufficient standing to permit the Court to address this question as a facial constitutional challenge without waiting for an individual to be arrested and then tried as applied to him.

Byron R. White:

Well, surely the state courts thought that there was standing for purposes of a state action.