DUI Checkpoints

In 2011 police in Queens, New York set up sobriety checkpoints, otherwise known as DUI checkpoints, as part of what they called “Step Out” surveillance. Set up on service road connecting the Long Island Express and the Grand Central Parkway, a number of vehicles were pulled over when police claimed they saw vehicle and traffic violations in the cars as they passed. Several of the motorists pulled over were subsequently arrested for driving while intoxicated. In five cases, judges found that the checkpoints on this service road in Queens were not conducted within the limits of the law. The evidence collected during these stops was therefore not admissible and the cases were thrown out of court.

Sobriety Checkpoints

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Sobriety checkpoints are used in thirty eight states in the US. Some may question if these checkpoints are legal. After all, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures. However, in the Supreme Court case Michigan v. Sitz, the court determined if sobriety checkpoints are done in a reasonable manner, that these deterrence measures are in fact legal. The court determined that the dangers the public faced by impaired driving outweigh the incursion to the Fourth Amendment.

Conditions to pass DUI Checkpoints

So what conditions must be met in order for a sobriety checkpoint to be deemed lawful? In New York, the first condition is that the purpose of the DUI checkpoint must be clearly stated. Also, the location and time of the checkpoint must be publicized in advance. (this condition is encouraged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as they believe that highly publicizing the checkpoint will deter people from driving while impaired. Keeping people off the roads when they have overindulged is more important than making arrests. The CDC cited a study that checkpoints may reduce alcohol related vehicle collisions by almost 20%) The second condition is that the officers conducting the DUI checkpoint can not overly intrude on a motorist’s privacy. In one of the cases in New York that was thrown out, police officers were shining flashlights in vehicles to search for violations. The third condition requires that checkpoint be maintained in accordance with a uniformed procedure leaving the officers conducting the checkpoint little discretion. The fifth condition is that the checkpoints have to be safe: well lit and with plenty of advance notice that the driver is coming into a checkpoint. Judges in the five cases thrown out in Queens found that the checkpoints were not adequately marked. Fifth, the police officers cannot hold drivers for an unreasonable amount of time and the stops conducted must be random. The formula for selecting vehicles to be stopped must be determined in advance of the checkpoint being set up.

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Obviously, DUI checkpoints, while increasing public safety, can lead to constitutional questions. When they are properly conducted, the evidence gathered is admissible in court and can be used against you if you are arrested for driving while intoxicated. If this happens to you or someone you know, it is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Green & Brenneck. They can help you carefully evaluate your options and help you get the best resolution possible in your case.