Criminal Defense - Understanding DWI/DUI Checkpoints

Criminal Defense - Understanding DWI/DUI Checkpoints


Many people assume that they are free from police interference unless they've done something wrong and are observed breaking the law. After all, we have the constitutional protection protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizures. This protection falls upon deaf ears when it comes to DWI or sobriety checkpoints. A sobriety check point is a mandatory stop off motorists along a designated portion of the highway in which the officer's will ask for your basic driving information and inspection of documents and will ask you whether you've been drinking. Depending upon your answer or the officer's observation of your speech and/or any open containers, you may be asked to exits the car to perform a field sobriety test. Typically, there is a mobile "DWI van" housing an intoxilyzer machine so the officers can conduct the breath test at the checkpoint if necessary. This process is an exception to regular DWI traffic stops that begin with the officer observing you driving improperly and suspect the bad driving is due to being drunk. During a sobriety checkpoint, rarely will an officer observe erratic driving behavior as the motorist enters into the checkpoint. How can an officer detain and investigate you if you are not seen committing a traffic violation? The Courts have rationalized this police tactic as a means of enforcing basic safety regulations i.e. making sure all motorists are licensed and insured and vehicles properly registered and inspected. It does not matter that the true motive behind the DWI checkpoint is to seize, question, and investigate as many motorists as possible for drunk driving.

Although The Supreme Court permits sobriety checkpoints, they do not approve the arbitrary use of them and have proscribed some rules that must be observed for the checkpoint to be valid. The more important rules for operating a DWI checkpoint include:

1. A specified criterion for determining what vehicles will be stopped. This prevents the arbitrary enforcement of the checkpoint. Unfortunately, stopping everyone motorist entering the checkpoint is permissible;

2. Advanced notice to motorists that a checkpoint will be conducted and, in the designated checkpoint area, enough warning must be given so the motorists have the theoretical option of not entering the checkpoint. Presumably, creating the false notion that motorists are not forced into the checkpoint. Although, it is not uncommon for other officers to look for non-conforming drivers and finding ways of stopping them too;

3. The checkpoint is designed to detain the motorists for the minimal amount of time necessary. Granted, this is a vague concept; and

4. It is preferred that the person designing the checkpoint and its procedures is an administrator and not the person running the checkpoint itself. Court's prefer the procedure to be written.

A good DWI criminal defense attorney will be able to review the DWI checkpoint procedures and documentation to determine whether it was conducted properly. If the sobriety checkpoint was not properly administered, the criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress and seek to have the field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests thrown out along with any statements made by the driver.

The police establish DWI checkpoint as a way to ensnare suspected drunk drivers whom they do not observe driving erratically. Fortunately, a DWI/DUI checkpoint arrest does not need to become a guaranteed conviction. There are a handful of procedural safeguards that must be followed for a checkpoint case to be prosecuted. A good criminal defense lawyer will know the requirements and be able to review the paperwork associated with the DWI checkpoint and determine whether the state can make its case. If you've been arrested for a DWI at a checkpoint, you need an experienced trial lawyer. Andre Belanger has handled nearly 200 trials during his career as a trial lawyer.

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