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Seven McLeod County DWI Checkpoint Requirements

by | Apr 5, 2019 | Criminal Defense, DWI, Firm News

As the calendar inches toward May and the arrival (we hope) of warmer weather, Hutchinson DWI lawyers are gearing up for their busiest time of year. The four major summer-season holidays — Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, July Fourth, and Labor Day — are all associated with drinking and driving. So, most McLeod County law enforcement agencies are gearing up for their busiest time of the year as well, and that means DUI checkpoints.

In a series of cases highlighted by 1990’s Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police officers do not need reasonable suspicion to pull over motorists at an approved DUI checkpoint. Since the lower legal requirement gives them more chances to stop more people, DUI roadblocks are very popular with local law enforcement agencies.

As they do in many other criminal law areas, Hutchinson DWI lawyers serve as a check on these expanded powers. Minnesota DUI checkpoints are only legal if they follow all applicable rules. Any violation, no matter how seemingly trivial, could invalidate the checkpoint and any DUI arrests that it spawned.

Pre-Checkpoint Publicity

There are no specific rules here, but generally, law enforcement agencies must give motorists a chance to avoid the checkpoint altogether. So, they must have sufficient time to alter travel plans and make other necessary arrangements. That usually requires at least two or three days lead time. The announcement mechanism is important as well. A posting on the police department’s website or Facebook page may not always be sufficient.

Minimal Detention

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. An unreasonably long delay at a DWI checkpoint falls into that category. So, to pass muster under the Constitution, checkpoint waiting time must generally be less than three minutes. That includes both the time waiting in line and the time at the actual checkpoint, but it does not include any post-stop activities, like field sobriety tests.

Adequate and Specific Signage

Signs like “DWI Checkpoint Ahead” must be far away from the checkpoint itself. If they want to do so, motorists must be able to turn around and avoid the checkpoint before traffic backs up and they get stuck in line. Additionally, the signs must be specific. Officers cannot set up checkpoints for any reason they want, and the signs must reflect that targeted approach.

Checkpoint Duration

Many of these elements are rather subjective, and this one may be the leader of the pack. Nevertheless, the duration must be reasonable for both officers and the public. A checkpoint which lasts fifteen minutes probably is not worth setting up, a checkpoint that lasts a day is far too intrusive, and everything else is somewhere in the middle.

Safety Precautions

Speed traps are sneaky. Officers hide in parking lots and in other places. But a Hutchinson DWI lawyer may be able to invalidate a checkpoint unless it is the opposite of sneaky. As mentioned, the signs must be clear. Other safety precautions usually include traffic cones and safety lights. Additionally, the roadblock cannot be on a freeway exit ramp or some other dangerous location.

Neutral Formula

Once vehicles reach the checkpoint, officers cannot wave some cars through and stop the ones that look suspicious. There must be a neutral formula. For example, officers might pull over every third vehicle which comes through the checkpoint. That formula usually ensures that traffic keeps moving and motorist delay is not unreasonably long.

Supervisor-Level Decisions

Perhaps most importantly, a department or other supervisor must establish all the aforementioned elements. For the most part, officers in the field can have no discretion. In some cases, they may be able to change the neutral pull-over formula if traffic backs up (e.g. pulling over every fourth car as opposed to every third car). In this context, a desk sergeant usually does not count as a supervisor. A supervisor is usually at least a lieutenant, but typically more like a captain.

One final note about your rights at a checkpoint. You must stop if the officer directs you to stop. You must also produce certain documents, probably a drivers’ license and proof of insurance. The DUI roadblock signs should alert you to have these things ready. But in most cases, you do not have to answer any questions or even roll down your window. If officers do not respect your rights, a Hutchinson DWI lawyer may be able to get the case thrown out of court,

Connect with Experienced Lawyers

Summertime DUI checkpoints must meet a number of requirements. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson DWI lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.