Legal Requirements of Sobriety Checkpoints

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints don’t violate the constitutional ban against unreasonable search and seizure so long as police follow certain guidelines .

If police don’t follow that protocol, evidence collected during a New Jersey drunk driving arrest at a sobriety checkpoint may be inadmissible in court. A New Jersey DWI defense attorney who concentrates on defending NJ DUI / DWI cases will determine whether a sobriety checkpoint was conducted according to the guidelines laid out by the Supreme Court, and whether evidence gathered there is likely to be suppressed.

The requirements for sobriety checkpoints established by the Supreme Court are intended to promote safety, and balance the rights of drivers against society’s need to keep impaired drivers off the road.

Only supervisory officers should make the decision to establish the checkpoint and choose its location. This requirement is especially critical to reduce the potential for random and arbitrary enforcement.

It’s also important for police to use a neutral mathematical formula in determining which drivers to stop, such as every third or fifth vehicle. This requirement is designed to keep police from selecting drivers or vehicles solely on appearance or other subjective criteria.

Another primary concern is the safety of both drivers and police. Warning signs, adequate lighting, and clearly identifiable official vehicles and personnel must be employed. Roadblocks should only be in operation when they can be conducted safely for all involved.

The timing and duration of sobriety checkpoints also is of key importance. Police should schedule sobriety checkpoints to ensure the safety of both drivers and officers. As long as safety is paramount, there are no strict rules as to the timing or duration of the roadblock.

Sobriety checkpoints also must be highly visible so that motorists can easily see the roadblock as they approach. Adequate lighting, flashing warning lights, police vehicles, and uniformed officers should be used. These factors are important both for safety reasons and to reassure motorists of the official nature of the checkpoint.

Police should detain each driver just long enough to ask a few brief questions and to look for signs of impairment, such as slurred speech, an odor of alcohol, and glassy, bloodshot eyes. If the driver shows no sign of impairment, he or she should be permitted to drive away without delay.

Drivers who show signs of impairment should be sent to a separate area for a field sobriety test. At that point, any further investigation must be based on probable cause, and general principles of detention and arrest apply.

Advance notice of the roadblock should be provided to the public through the media, although police aren’t required to disclose the specific location. Public announcements are designed to increase the deterrent effect of the checkpoint and reduce the intrusiveness on individual motorists. Announcements also serve to legitimize the roadblock in the minds of drivers.

Police cannot stop drivers merely because they tried to avoid the roadblock, the Supreme Court determined. However, if a driver who avoids the roadblock shows obvious signs of intoxication or commits a vehicle code violation, police can stop the motorist based on probable cause.

Ultimately, while the Supreme Court has endorsed sobriety checkpoints, there are specific guidelines that must be followed when operating a roadblock, and police don’t always observe them. A New Jersey DWI defense attorney who thoroughly understands the requirements of sobriety checkpoints will determine whether a drunk driving arrest was made at a lawful roadblock, and plan a defense strategy accordingly.

Please call Levow DWI Law at 877-593-1717 to discuss your roadblock or sobriety checkpoint issues, or any other DWI / DUI issue. Call now for a free NJ DWI consultation.