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Judge challenges D.C. police roadblocks
A federal judge has thrown out evidence against a man facing felony drug charges after his arrest in a recent roadside stop, calling into question the Metropolitan Police Department“s policy on roadblocks.
The defendant, Lee Hudson, was arrested March 8 after his vehicle was stopped at a so-called safety-compliance checkpoint by officers from the department“s street-crime unit. The officers said they were trying to reduce speeding at 17th and D streets Northeast.
After Mr. Hudson was arrested for having no license, officers searched him and found drugs in a plastic bag. He later turned over about 100 empty plastic bags and made a “potentially incriminating statement,” court records show.
Mr. Hudson was indicted on felony cocaine charges. Faced with more than a decade in prison, he asked that the evidence be thrown out because the roadblock was improper.
A federal judge agreed. In a 25-page opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle called the roadblock “an intrusion upon individual liberty [that] exceeded the boundaries of reasonableness.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said yesterday that prosecutors were reviewing their options and could appeal the ruling.
A police department spokeswoman declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.
“At least as of March 8, there were no MPD regulations, directives or orders governing the conduct of roadblocks,” she wrote.
Judge Huvelle was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by President Clinton. Last year, she threw out evidence against three Rwanda citizens facing the death penalty in the 1999 kidnapping and killing of two tourists at Ugandan tourist camp. Charges were later dismissed.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can conduct roadblock stops to prevent drunken driving and to verify driver’s licenses.
Judge Huvelle said the prevention of speeding also is an appropriate reason for roadblocks. However, she wasn’t convinced that speed reduction was the true purpose of the roadblock in which Mr. Hudson was stopped.
The judge cited a Supreme Court ruling that stated checkpoints were improper when “justified only by the generalized and ever-present possibility that interrogation and inspection may reveal that any given motorist has committed some crime.”
“Here, the roadblock was established not as part of any program or citywide [or even neighborhood] initiative … but because of a single officer’s belief that there was a speeding problem at a particular location in Northeast,” the judge wrote.
Three D.C. police officers involved in the stop testified in a hearing on whether to suppress the evidence.
Sgt. Timothy Evans of the 1st District’s Street Crime/Power Shift unit, who supervised the stop, testified that the purpose of the roadblock was to reduce speeding. The judge said no evidence in the case showed that any speeding tickets or warnings were issued.
Another officer testified that he never received instructions on what to look for or ask for at a roadblock.
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