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What Happens at Buffalo DUI Roadblocks?

by | Nov 28, 2018 | Buffalo, DWI, Firm News

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, which means that local law enforcement departments are already planning their DUI roadblocks. These checkpoints usually appear at that time of year along with other drinking-and-driving holidays, like Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

Normally, police officers need reasonable suspicion to pull over suspected drunk drivers. The United States Supreme Court has diluted the reasonable suspicion standard in a few recent cases. But officers must still have some specific, articulable facts which indicate criminal activity. This requirement is embedded in the Fourth Amendment.

But roadblock stops are more difficult for Buffalo criminal defense lawyers to handle. At checkpoint stops, police officers do not need reasonable suspicion. Rather, officers may pull over vehicles according to a pre-set pattern.

DUI Roadblock Requirements

Since DUI checkpoints are exempt from the reasonable suspicion requirement, they must meet very specific standards, as set out by 1990’s Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz and some other cases. Some of these requirements include:

  • Supervisor-Level Planning: A few street cops cannot get together and establish checkpoints where they feel they are needed. Arguably, sergeants and lieutenants do not have this power either. Instead, these directives must come from high-level supervisors, like captains, or from lawmakers. These individuals are accountable to the voters either directly or indirectly.
  • Neutral Formula: Some checkpoint officers are tempted to combine a watered-down reasonable suspicion requirement with roadblock procedures. But officers cannot pull over cars because they “look wrong.” Instead, the checkpoint guidelines must establish a schedule (e.g. every third vehicle is detained) and stick with it for the entire time.
  • Visibility: Checkpoints are not poorly-concealed speed traps. Instead, checkpoints must include traffic cones, warning lights, adequate signage, and other items. This requirement blends in with your right to turn around and avoid the checkpoint, which is examined below.
  • Publicity: Once supervisors set out detailed checkpoint guidelines, the department must publicize the checkpoint. The rules here are a little uncertain. But the publicity must be of a sufficient nature that it gives people the opportunity to stay away from the area altogether if they choose.
  • Detention Length: The rules are a bit vague here as well. Generally, however, any period longer than about three minutes is too long. That includes the time drivers spend waiting in line to reach the checkpoint itself, interaction with officers, and leaving the area.

Buffalo criminal defense lawyers can use any breakdown to invalidate the checkpoint, and intermittent breakdowns are common. For example, officers might start detaining every fourth vehicle to speed the line up. There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment. But unless the established checkpoint guidelines authorize such action, that initiative is illegal non-supervisor planning.

Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint

At most traffic stops, Buffalo criminal defense lawyers can attack officers’ reasonable suspicion for the stop. For example, many officers claim that drivers made “furtive movements” while driving. Furtive gestures, like looking around quickly or appearing to hide something, do not constitute reasonable suspicion in most Wright County courtrooms.

Similarly, drivers have rights at DUI roadblocks. Motorists do not have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. But they do have the right to:

  • Avoid the Checkpoint: Generally, the aforementioned warning signs must begin before the line forms. Drivers must have the opportunity to make U-turns and avoid the checkpoint. If that happens, officers will probably shadow them for at least a few blocks.
  • Remain Silent in Line: When drivers reach checkpoint officers, they must produce drivers’ licenses and proof of insurance upon request. However, they do not need to answer any other questions. IN fact, they do not even have to roll down their windows. It’s enough to flash the documents, stop briefly, and then move on.
  • Remain Silent After Detention: To move motorists to the detention area, officers must have reasonable suspicion of intoxication. That could be physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes or odor of alcohol. That could also be the driver’s statements. If officers ask you to answer more questions or perform field sobriety tests, your Fifth Amendment rights remain in place. If you remain silent, officers will almost surely arrest you. But that probably would have happened anyway.

Recording smartphone or other video is in a grey area. The United States Supreme Court has yet to rule that people have a fundamental right to film police officers as they exercise their official duties.

DUI checkpoints give police officers an enormous amount of power. If not for budget constraints, most departments would have checkpoints on every major intersection on every weekend. But this power is not absolute. Checkpoints erode some, but not all of, your constitutional rights.

Work with a Dedicated Lawyer

Every minute they are operations, DUI checkpoints must conform with the law. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo criminal defense lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.