Absolutely not. And, many drivers might have this question during the summer of 2020 as area law enforcement agencies deal with coronavirus fallout.
Normally, DUI roadblocks are large-scale, expensive operations. That explains why they usually only pop up during certain times of year. But many Atlanta-area law enforcement groups might use min-checkpoints as a cost-effective alternative to roving patrols. These roadblocks might look different, but they must comply with the same rules, as outlined below.
Furthermore, many people will be very happy that COVID-19 quarantines are over. So, summer holidays commonly associated with drinking and driving, such as Independence Day and Labor Day, might see more alcohol consumption than normal in 2020. It’s worth noting that Independence Day is on a Saturday this year.
Because of all this, the DUI checkpoint requirements in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz and other cases will probably play a prominent role in lots of DUI cases which go to court in 2021. Some of these key requirements are outlined below. Generally, if a roadblock is legally defective in any way, no matter how minor, any subsequent stop or arrest is illegal, under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.
Informal or ad hoc checkpoints are always illegal. Officers cannot begin randomly pulling people over without a supervisor’s approval. It does not matter how pure the officers’ motives are or what safety precautions they take.
Generally, a supervisor is a sheriff, police chief, or another person who is directly accountable to voters or at least in the public eye.
DUI checkpoints must be just that. They are DUI checkpoints, and not police dragnets. As such, supervisors must set them up in places where there are probably drunk drivers. This issue came up in Chicago in 2015. An investigation revealed that almost 90 percent of the city’s DUI checkpoints were in mostly black neighborhoods. Many mostly white neighborhoods saw no checkpoints at all, even though whites commit most DUI infractions.
Some Greater Atlanta law enforcement agencies have rules which prohibit officers from setting up pretext checkpoints. But most agencies have no such restrictions.
Random checkpoints are not random. Officers cannot detain motorists who “don’t look right” or behave suspiciously and wave everyone else through. Instead, there must be a set formula, such as detaining every third vehicle. Officers usually cannot deviate from this formula, which was created by the supervisor who authorized the checkpoint, under any circumstances.
Filed officers have some limited flexibility on this point if traffic backs up. To speed motorists through the checkpoint, officers can change the formula. This backup formula must also have supervisor-level approval. The triggering mechanism must be approved in this way too.
Adequate Safety Precautions
DUI roadblocks, even the small ones, are not speed traps. Officers must be clearly visible. And, since motorists must stop, traffic calming devices, like traffic cones, must be down at least a quarter mile before the checkpoint itself.
For the reasons outlined above, the signs must be protective and instructive. If there is a failing, it might be this one. So, Marietta criminal defense attorneys closely scrutinize this element.
Many people do not know what a “checkpoint” or “roadblock” is. So, signs must tell people to slow down and be ready to stop. Otherwise, the checkpoint could be very dangerous for officers and motorists alike.
Moreover, the signs must be instructive. Officers should assume that at least a few people will know their Fifth Amendment rights and not roll down their windows. Therefore, a sign should say something like “Have Drivers’ License and Proof of Insurance Ready.”
The first signs must be far away from the checkpoint. Drivers must have an opportunity to turn around and avoid the checkpoint before traffic backs up.
Reasonable Duration and Time
The duration usually refers to the amount of time the checkpoint is up and running. The time usually refers to the detention length of individual vehicles. Both these periods must be reasonable.
DUI checkpoints must operate during a reasonable time of the day. Most drunk drivers are not out in midmorning or afternoon. Checkpoints at these times are probably illegal pretext checkpoints. Additionally, the checkpoint cannot operate for more than two or three hours.
As for the individual time, any detention longer than about twenty seconds is probably unreasonable. That includes the time waiting in line and the time interacting with officers. The clock stops if officers have reasonable suspicion of drunk driving and they direct the motorist to an inspection area.
Reasonable suspicion includes statements the driver makes to officers, odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, and erratic driving.
Yes, you read that right. Even if the checkpoint meets all the aforementioned requirements, it could still be illegal. Roadblocks allow police officers to bypass the Fourth Amendment. But the Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent is unaffected.
As mentioned, motorists must present some documents for inspection, usually a drivers’ license and proof of insurance. However, under the Fifth Amendment, they otherwise have the right to remain silent. Drivers do not even need to say hello.
Moreover, the Fifth Amendment also applies to actions. People must obey basic police officer commands, like “step out of the vehicle.” But they do not need to roll down their windows at a checkpoint if they are otherwise compliant.
If officers ask questions, the Miranda rights (you have the right to remain silent, etc.) might come into play. Generally, officers must read these rights to people when custodial interrogation begins. In this context, “custody” usually means the defendant does not feel free to leave. Most people do not feel free to leave from a checkpoint, whether they are in handcuffs or not.
If officers fail to properly Mirandize the defendant, any statements made or evidence obtained cannot be used in court.
DUI roadblocks are illegal in Georgia unless they meet a number of strict requirements. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start fighting for you.