A Hutchinson, MN DUI Lawyer Looks at Roadside Checkpoint Requirements

St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most alcohol-fueled holidays on the calendar. Roughly a third of Americans celebrate at a bar or restaurant. St. Patrick’s Day is also the number four drinking day of the year, behind New Year’s, Christmas, and the Fourth of July. So, if you pull out of a neighborhood bar on or around St. Patrick’s Day, do not be surprised if you see a DUI roadblock dead ahead.

Police departments love checkpoints. If they did not cost so much money, they would probably be up every weekend. Properly-executed DUI roadblocks enable officers to bypass the Fourth Amendment and detain motorists without reasonable suspicion.

However, motorists still have rights at checkpoints. For example, the Fifth Amendment is still in play. So, you have the right to remain silent. In fact, drivers do not have to roll down their windows. They must simply flash a drivers’ license and proof of insurance.

If officers violate your rights at a checkpoint, or it does not meet any of the legal requirements listed below, a Hutchinson, MN DUI lawyer can probably invalidate both the stop and the arrest.

Pre-Checkpoint Publicity

Police departments need not take out full-page ads in local newspapers to advertise checkpoints in advance. However, a brief tweet or note on the department’s Facebook site is probably not sufficient publicity. The goal is to alert people who normally drive in a certain area and give them the opportunity to avoid that area altogether.

In court, the state has the burden of proof on this point and all other aspects of checkpoint operation. A Hutchinson, MN DUI lawyer must only create doubt.

Roadblock Location and Hutchinson, MN DUI Lawyers

DUI roadblock location has become increasingly controversial. Frequently, police departments set up checkpoints to search for illegal weapons, drugs, and other contraband. Or, they use checkpoints to arrest people with outstanding traffic warrants or other issues unrelated to DUI.

To invalidate a checkpoint on this point, a Hutchinson, MN DUI lawyer often pulls arrest statistics in that area from the previous year. The argument is very meticulous and time-consuming, but it’s often worth the effort.

Additionally, the DUI roadblock must be in a safe place. Freeway off-ramps are not safe places, although they might ensnare more drivers. Additional safety measures include lots of signage and lighting. More on this point below.

Neutral Formula

Contrary to popular myth, checkpoints are not random. Officers cannot detain motorists who do not “look right” and wave other people through. For example, officers might detain every third vehicle that pulls through the roadblock.

Generally, field officers have no discretion when it comes to checkpoint operation. A supervisor must set up every detail, such as the length of operation and checkpoint location. However, if traffic backs up, officers can change to another neutral formula. That formula might be detaining every fourth or fifth motorist.

Checkpoint Signage

DUI roadblocks are not modified speed traps. Warning signs should be deployed about a quarter-mile ahead of the checkpoint. Other signs should tell motorists what to do, like “Be Prepared to Stop” and “Have Drivers’ License and Proof of Insurance Ready.” DUI checkpoints should also include things like traffic cones.

The first signs should be far enough away that drivers have a chance to turn around and avoid the checkpoint. Patrol cars normally tail these people for at least several blocks, but officers must have reasonable suspicion to detain these motorists.

Length

The operational length must be limited. About two or three hours is as long as a checkpoint can last. Anything much longer is an unreasonable length which violates Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz and other key cases.

Additionally, individual motorists cannot wait at checkpoints for more than about twenty seconds. That includes the time spent waiting in line and also the time spent at the actual checkpoint. A longer detention violates the Fourth Amendment.

Contact Tenacious Attorneys

Law enforcement officers do not have unlimited rights at checkpoints. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN DUI lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.

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