During holiday weekends, like July Fourth Weekend, peace officers are usually out in force, looking for intoxicated motorists. Sometimes, the emphasis comes during a pre-shift briefing, when supervisors tell officers to look out for drunk drivers. Other times, these efforts are more organized. Supervisors pull officers off their normal routes and shifts, redeploy them to a certain area, and tell them to make as many DUI arrests as possible.
The DUI roadblock is an extreme form of heightened enforcement. During the aforementioned efforts, police officers must follow the rules. But at a DUI checkpoint, they may almost literally follow their own rules. As long as the roadblock meets certain minimum standards, the Fourth Amendment’s rules about motorist stops usually don’t apply.
However, officers cannot entirely throw out the legal rules. Some of them still apply, and you still have rights at a checkpoint. More on that below.
Largely because of the aforementioned rules thing, officers would probably operate DUI checkpoints every weekend if they could. People are not as friendly to police officers as they were in ye olden days. So, many cops prefer to stick together. Furthermore, at checkpoints, officers usually have something to do. Driving around for hours on patrol is occasionally mind numbing.
However, DUI roadblocks are also quite expensive. In addition to the physical requirements, like signs and lights, there’s officer overtime to consider. Sometimes, state government grants pay these expenses. But this funding is limited. The state bureaucrats in Atlanta aren’t made of money.
There are two takeaways here. The first one has to do with police officer popularity. Once upon a time, jurors routinely supported tactics, like DUI roadblocks, which included mass arrests. Today, at least to many jurors, these activities are akin to “round up the usual suspects.”
Second, there’s the financial pressure. Investors always want a generous return. In this case, the ROI (Return on Investment) is the number of DUI arrests a checkpoint produces. So, the financial pressure sometimes leads to shortcuts.
DUI roadblocks might allow officers to disregard some basic Constitutional rights. But there are still rules to follow. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer could use a letdown in any area to invalidate the stop.
- State-Level Authorization: Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1991) essentially gave state governments the option to legalize sobriety checkpoints. Therefore, unless a state legislature takes affirmative action, checkpoints are still illegal. Georgia legislators have acted in this area.
- Supervisor-Level Setup: A county sheriff, police chief, or another elected or highly-appointed official must lay out all operational details. With some exceptions, officers at the checkpoint can have no operational discretion. In other words, a supervisor must set the rules, and officers must follow them.
- Checkpoint Publicity: A DUI roadblock is not a fancy speed trap. The sponsoring agency must publicize the checkpoint a few days in advance, so people can alter their plans and completely avoid the area. Furthermore, the roadblock itself must have sufficient signs, traffic cones, and other such items, so drivers can turn around before they get stuck in line.
- Location and Operation Matters: DUI checkpoints are just that. They are sobriety checkpoints and not pretext checkpoints. Therefore, a roadblock must be in an area of town where such arrests are normally common. The proof is often in the pudding. If officers make several arrests for non-alcohol offenses, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Similarly, officers cannot operate checkpoints for the entire July Fourth weekend. A few hours is usually the max.
- Brief Detention: On a related note, if motorists must wait in line for more than about twenty seconds, that detention length is probably too long. So, if roadblock traffic backs up, checkpoint officers may change the formula, perhaps from stopping every third vehicle to stopping every fifth one, until the line gets shorter.
- Neutral Formula: This last requirement might be the most important one. Officers cannot pull people over because they act nervous or otherwise don’t look right. Officers may only detain motorists according to a neutral formula.
If a Marietta criminal defense lawyer invalidates the stop, anything that happens later is fruit from a poisonous tree. So, if officers pull over Max at an illegal checkpoint, he provides a chemical sample, and the sample is over the limit, the chemical test results are inadmissible.
Police departments can make up most of the rules, but they cannot ignore all individual rights. As mentioned, the Fourth Amendment largely goes out the window at a sobriety checkpoint. But the Fifth Amendment still applies.
The right to remain silent usually includes the right to not say anything and the right to not do anything. So, motorists don’t have to answer questions. Furthermore, as long as they obey some basic commands, they need not even roll down their windows. These basic commands usually mean presenting documents, like a drivers’ license, for inspection.
If you assert your Fifth Amendment rights, there are consequences. For example, if you refuse to provide a chemical sample, that refusal is admissible in court. And, if you assert your rights at a checkpoint, expect an officer to tail you for at least several blocks. At that point, any traffic violation could independently justify a stop.
Individuals have other rights as well, as outlined above. These rights include the right to avoid the checkpoint if desired and the right to a neutral detention formula. Perhaps most importantly, although police officers can largely determine the rules, they must follow the rules they set.
Although officers have broad authority at sobriety checkpoints, this authority is not unlimited. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.