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Drivers Beware: The Holiday Season Can Bring About More Sobriety Checkpoints

December 11, 2015 | Posted In Drunk Driving - DUI/DWI

This holiday season, plenty of drivers will be celebrating with a drink or two at office holiday parties, gatherings with family and friends or even at the local bar on the way home from a long day of fighting crowds at the mall. Drinking seems to go hand-in-hand with the holidays, and in anticipation, many local law enforcement offices have stepped up their prevention methods during the months of December and January.

Because driving drunk is illegal and dangerous for everyone on the roads, DUI checkpoints are a popular way to enforce the state’s blood alcohol limits, as officers are able to physically stop drivers on certain roads and test for sobriety. However, even if you are stopped as part of a sobriety checkpoint, your rights remain the same.

Constitutional Protections

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints are viable ways to stop drunk drivers that are not in violation of citizens’ Constitutional rights to privacy and protection from illegal searches and seizures. However, in order to remain in compliance with these rights, police officers need to follow specific guidelines for setting up and running checkpoints this holiday season.

  • Sobriety checkpoints should be highly visible, not only for the safety of the officers on scene, but also for the drivers passing through. There should be adequate lighting, visible warning lights, police vehicles with flashing lights and uniformed officers at the site to alert drivers and allow them to make a safe stop.
  • Officers should use a deliberate mathematical pattern to determine which cars to stop and check — every fifth car, for example — to avoid stopping certain drivers based on appearance.
  • The timing and duration of a checkpoint are left to the individual department’s discretion, so long as the safety of police and affected drivers is the most important factor.
  • The location of a DUI checkpoint is also left up to the department’s discretion, but it should be selected in such a way to avoid arbitrary enforcement concerns.
  • Police should only hold drivers for a few moments to ask a few questions and check for signs of drunk driving, such as slurred speech, glassy eyes, the smell of alcohol, open containers in the car, etc. If a driver shows no signs of impairment, he or she should be allowed to move on after a brief stop. If a driver does seem to be intoxicated, he or she may be directed to a separate area to undergo a field sobriety test. From there, any arrest or further questioning should be done on the basis of probable cause, in accordance with the rules set forth for law enforcement.
  • Police departments should provide advance notice to the general public through media outlets of any checkpoints or roadblocks. Police are not required to disclose specific locations for upcoming checkpoints, but public announcements serve as an advance deterrent.

Know What’s Protected

DUI checkpoints promote safety and intend to keep drunk drivers off the road before an accident happens, but if conducted improperly, they could jeopardize a driver’s Constitutional rights. If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, know your rights. If you feel that these rights have been violated in any way, any subsequent criminal charges or accusations could be called into question. For more information, contact a New Jersey DUI lawyer at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.  

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