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Court suppresses DUI checkpoint evidence

MANATEE — A Manatee County judge issued an order Thursday suppressing all evidence gathered at a DUI checkpoint last year.

Manatee County Judge Doug Henderson threw out evidence at the March 22, 2008, DUI checkpoint on the Green Bridge in Palmetto after three area criminal defense attorneys, Charlie Britt, Mark Lipinski and Chris Pratt, argued the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office did not follow their guidelines.

“You have to have the written operational guidelines and you have to stick by them,” Britt said. “They never did that. Doing a checkpoint is a privilege according to the Supreme Court … because you’re stopping people with no probable cause, you have to have a written plan. You can’t do what you feel like doing, which is essentially what they were doing.”

According to the guidelines, the sheriff’s office would stop every vehicle going through the checkpoint. If the traffic were to become backed up, law enforcement would then stop every sixth vehicle, according to the order.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said the Sheriff’s Office is in the process of rewriting DUI checkpoint guidelines.

“We’ve never had this problem in any other checkpoints we’ve done,” he said.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Sgt. Paul Fieber testified in court that on two occasions traffic had become so backed up that he had to allow 20 cars to pass.

“The Manatee Players had just let out downtown and the traffic was backed up over the bridge and into downtown because of our checkpoint. Sgt. Fieber made a decision to allow more than six cars to go through to alleviate that traffic point. If the judge finds we violated the procedure and he is suppressing the evidence, then we have to abide by that,” Steube said.

In Sept. 2008, Fieber told the judge he changed the sheriff’s office guidelines to stop every 10th, 20th and 30th vehicle if safety issues arose, according to the order.

Henderson made the ruling based on a previous Florida Supreme Court case in Charlotte County in Sept. 2008.

Lipinski said it’s rare a suppression is granted for a checkpoint. This is the second suppression for a checkpoint he has won in 20 years.

“I think for sometime now the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has been doing them wrong,” Lipinski said. “Paul Fieber testified he didn’t follow his own guidelines and never has.”

In another DUI case Thursday, Sarasota County Judge David Denkin indicated a written order would most likely be issued two weeks from now on whether evidence from the Intoxilyzer 5000 will be upheld in Sarasota and Manatee county DUI cases.

The validity test has been challenged for more than three years by hundreds of defendants in Manatee and Sarasota counties involved in stalled DUI cases. Kentucky-based CMI Inc., the company that makes the machines, has refused to release its source code.

Both Henderson and Denkin ordered CMI to divulge the code, but CMI said it is a protected trade secret.