TUPELO • Justice Court Judge Chuck Hopkins on Thursday dismissed a drunken driving charge against Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan after ruling that Logan was unconstitutionally stopped by the Mississippi Highway Patrol last year.
Hopkins issued his ruling in a very brief hearing, reading from a prepared statement which he then released to members of the press.
“I took an oath of office to be fair and without bias,” Hopkins said. “I also took an oath to hear the evidence fairly that has been presented to the court by both the prosecution and the defense, and I have done so in this case.”
In a court appearance last month, Logan’s legal team argued that a Dec. 7 checkpoint operated by Highway Patrol troopers did not pass constitutional muster and that Logan’s detention there was an unlawful seizure.
Therefore, Logan’s attorneys Harry Sumner and Lee Dulaney asked the court to exclude all evidence obtained from the safety checkpoint and dismiss the case.
Logan’s legal team argued the checkpoint was not properly authorized by supervisory personnel and that the record failed to establish the other components necessary for a constitutional checkpoint.
The night Logan was charged, troopers charged a Tremont man with DUI after he was stopped at the same checkpoint. His case remains pending and his attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday as to whether he’ll follow the tack of Logan’s attorneys.
As he left Lee County Justice Court Thursday, Logan refused to answer questions from the Daily Journal about whether he had been drinking the night of his arrest.
“No comment,” Logan said.
Logan, 55, provides full-time legal services for Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration and the Tupelo City Council.
When asked by the Daily Journal, Logan would not say whether he believes the Tupelo Police Department’s checkpoints are constitutionally valid. He also would not say if he has been asked to investigate the legal validity of checkpoints maintained by Tupelo police.
“No comment,” Logan said repeatedly as he walked out of Justice Court.
Mayor Jason Shelton also declined, through a spokesperson, to say whether he believes the Tupelo Police Department’s checkpoints conform to constitutional standards.
The Highway Patrol declined to comment Thursday but said its legal team would review the ruling to determine the basis for the court’s decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that checkpoints, in principle, don’t violate the U.S. Constitution, but those checkpoints must meet certain requirements.
Logan was stopped at a Highway Patrol checkpoint last year sometime after leaving a Christmas party sponsored by the city of Tupelo. Troopers charged Logan with DUI refusal but according to recent court filings, dispute exists about whether Logan was actually offered a breath test to determine his blood alcohol level.
According to documents filed by the county prosecutor, law enforcement “was able to discern an odor of an intoxicating beverage” after stopping Logan.
Within about the last week, Logan’s legal team and Lee County Prosecutor Jonathan Martin have volleyed arguments over the fate of the case.
Martin wrote that the legality of fixed vehicle checkpoints is well established under certain conditions and that the Dec. 7 checkpoint “met all the requirements of reasonableness.”
According to Martin, the checkpoint was visible to oncoming traffic, and officers stopped all motorists.
In response, Dulaney argued that the checkpoint where Logan was stopped failed to meet the relevant constitutional tests and was therefore an unlawful search and seizure prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
In a written argument, Dulaney said the checkpoint was not properly ordered by the relevant law enforcement officials and that the prosecutor failed to introduce any evidence to indicate how the checkpoint was operated and why it was established.
“The state bears the burden of proof to show that a warrantless stop and search, as we have here, meets constitutional muster,” Dulaney wrote. “In this instance, the State has failed to set forth any evidence in support of its response.”
The Mississippi Highway Patrol’s handling of Logan’s arrest raised questions at the time. Logan was taken to the Lee County jail, but never went inside and was not booked into custody. Instead, troopers released him to a Tupelo police department officer.