Seven McLeod County DWI Checkpoint Requirements

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.

Five Common DUI Field Sobriety Tests

In most cases, the FSTs serve as probable cause for a chemical sample request. “Probable cause” is not a well-defined term, but in Minnesota, it is not much more than an evidence-based hunch.

However, in a significant number of instances, the defendant refuses to provide a breath or blood sample. If that happens, McLeod County prosecutors must use the FSTs to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. That’s a much higher evidentiary standard. In general, reasonable doubt is anything beyond speculative, capricious, or fanciful doubt.

So, in these cases, a Hutchinson DUI defense lawyer has an opportunity to significantly undermine the FSTs, as outlined below.

The stakes are high. Even a first-time DUI conviction normally means high fines, extended court supervision, and driving restrictions. Additionally, DUIs have a number of collateral consequences, such as sky-high auto insurance rates.

Finger to Nose Test

The FNT is primarily a balance test. Subjects must tilt their heads back and touch the tips of their index fingers to the tips of their noses. In some areas, police officers dress this test up and include things like counting or reciting part of the alphabet.

But no matter what bells and whistles officers add, this test has no scientific foundation. As a result, Hutchinson DUI defense lawyers can often exclude these test results, or at least see that they are admitted only for limited purposes.

Romberg Balance Test

If the FNT is under-scientific, the Romberg test may have the opposite problem. It is over-scientific. The test appears simple. Subjects must stand straight for one minute with their eyes closed. They must also silently count sixty seconds. This test measures:

  • Proprioception (knowing one’s body position in space),
  • Vestibular ability (knowing one’s head position in space), and
  • Vision (using one’s eyes to adjust balance).

Despite all these multi-syllable words and the Romberg Test’s long history (it was developed in the early 1800s), the test has almost no scientific merit. For that reason, McLeod County judges often exclude it. However, Hutchinson DUI defense lawyers often allow the jury to review it. Many officers do not know how the test works, and the lack of knowledge makes them look bad. If nothing else, jurors are often impressed when a Hutchinson DUI defense lawyer discusses abstruse topics like vestibular skills and proprioception.

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

The HGN is the first test in the approved three-test battery. It’s a medical test designed to identify nystagmus, which is also known as lazy eye.

Most people have probably taken an HGN test before at a doctor’s office. Subjects must track moving objects, like a flashlight bulb, by moving their eyes while their heads remain still. If the pupil moves involuntarily at certain angles, the person probably has nystagmus.

If administered under controlled conditions, the HGN test is quite effective. But roadside HGN tests are not administered under controlled conditions. Flashing strobe lights pulse in the distance while cars and their headlights zoom past at high speeds. Especially if the subject is not directly under a very bright light, it’s very difficult to spot subtle pupil movements.

Additionally, many people have nystagmus and do not know it. The condition is so subtle that it only appears during periods of extreme stress, such as a DUI arrest. So, even if the person “fails” the HGN test, intoxication is probably not the reason.

One Leg Stand

In many ways, the OLS is the test that the FTN tries to be. In the One Leg Stand, subjects must elevate one leg for fifteen seconds and balance on the other leg. The OLS is a divided attention test. It measures physical dexterity and the defendant’s ability to count. Because of the way alcohol affects the brain, intoxicated people have a hard time multitasking in this way.

If a person has any mobility impairments whatsoever, it’s impossible to complete the OLS, drunk or sober. Typically, the defendant has already undergone several tests, so the defendant is already physically and mentally tired. Therefore, OLS results are often worse than they would be otherwise.

Walk and Turn

This test, which is also known as the HTW or heel-to-toe walk test, basically combines the worst elements of the HGN and OLS.

Many times, officers ask defendants to walk an imaginary line as opposed to an actual line. That’s quite difficult to do, especially in the dark. Additionally, if the surface is not flat as a table, it’s easy to lose one’s balance when walking heel to toe.

Type of shoes may be an issue as well. Officers sometimes give women the chance to remove high-heel shoes. But they do not always offer this choice, and if it’s cold or wet, removing one’s shoes is not really an option. Other kinds of footwear, such as flip-flops and cowboy boots, may affect this test as well. Officers almost never give people a chance to remove these kinds of shoes.

Connect with Tenacious Attorneys

The FSTs are stacked against the defendant. To level the playing field, you need an experienced Hutchinson DUI defense lawyer. So, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A., for a free consultation. Home and jail visits are available.


Can Hutchinson Criminal Law Attorneys Disprove Intoxication?

We hear this question a lot. Many people assume that if they fail the field tests and/or have a Blood Alcohol Content above the legal limit, there is no way to beat DUI charges. But that’s imply not true.

As a preliminary matter, criminal defendants need not “disprove” anything. The prosecutor has the burden of proof in criminal cases, and that burden is very high. To prevail at trial, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys need only create reasonable doubt. Minnesota law does not define this term. But generally, proof is beyond a reasonable doubt if it is so overwhelming that the defendant must be guilty.

An attorney can leverage these defenses during trial or during plea bargaining negotiations.

Procedural Questions

Minnesota courts have precise requirements for things like arrests, searches, and the preservation of evidence. If police or prosecutors violate these procedures, a McLeod County judge can throw the case out of court. So, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys pay close attention to the details.

In general, Hutchinson officers must have reasonable suspicion for the stop. The evidentiary standard is very low, and the United States Supreme Court has watered it down even further. But the rule is still in place, and it’s sometimes an issue in DUI cases. 

Many times, especially around the holidays, police departments use Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs to increase arrests. In STEP campaigns, officers sometimes take shortcuts, and they may pull over a motorist even if they only have a hunch that the driver is intoxicated.

DUI checkpoints are the main exception to the reasonable suspicion rule, and these roadblocks are legal in Minnesota. However, these checkpoints must meet specific standards. For example:

  • A supervisor must make all the decisions,
  • The department must publicize the checkpoint,
  • Motorist delay cannot be more than two or three minutes, and
  • Officers must respect individual rights at the checkpoint.

Any violation of these rules, however slight, may invalidate the stop, and therefore invalidate the arrest.

Field Sobriety Tests

If an officer sees signs of intoxication, like erratic driving or bloodshot eyes, the officer next asks the defendant to perfrom FSTs. There are a number of informal tests, like the finger-to-nose test. But these results are usually either inadmissible or only admissible for limited purposes. There are only three approved field sobriety tests, and they are all very subjective.

  • Walk and Turn: This test is also known as the walking-a-straight-line test or the heel-to-toe walk test. The defendant must walk a straight line heel to toe back and forth in each direction. Hutchinson criminal law attorneys often focus on the test conditions. For example, it’s almost impossible to walk an imaginary line heel to toe whether the person is drunk or sober.
  • One-Leg Stand: Like the WAT, and OLS is a divided attention test which measures both physical dexterity and mental acuity. The defendant must stand on one leg without swaying or losing balance. This test has some flaws as well. For example, it’s very difficult for anyone with any mobility impairment to pass this test.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: Unlike the previous two, the HGN test is a medical test. If the pupil moves involuntarily at certain angles, the subject probably has nystagmus. This condition is also known as lazy eye. Alcohol does indeed cause nystagmus, but it’s not the only cause. In fact, it’s not even the leading cause. Childhood brain injuries and genetic conditions cause most nystagmus cases.

If the prosecutor only needs the FST results to establish probable cause, the prosecutor is usually okay. But if the state must rely on the FSTs to provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys may be able to beat the DUI charges.

Chemical Tests

Admittedly, it’s very difficult to challenge chemical test results. In some jurisdictions, the conviction rate in these cases is over 85 percent. But nothing is impossible for an aggressive Hutchinson criminal law attorney. ANd that includes challenging chemical test results.

Today’s Breathalyzer has many bells and whistles. But fundamentally, it’s the same thing as the 1950s drunk-o-meter. So, Breathalyzers often have flaws, such as:

  • Mouth Alcohol: If the defendant burped, vomited, or belched in the half hour before taking the test, the mouth alcohol particles may skew the test results. Minnesota has a very lax waiting period law. So, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys can argue that the defendant might have burped and no one saw it.
  • Acetone Levels: Everyone has some acetone particles in their bodies, and the Breathalyzer registers these particles as ethanol. Normally, that’s not a big deal. But diabetics, smokers, and some other people all have abnormally high acetone levels.
  • Unabsorbed Alcohol: The body absorbs most alcohol through the liver instead of the stomach, and that’s a much slower process. So, if the defendant had been drinking in the previous hour or so, that alcohol has not yet entered the bloodstream. So, the Breathalyzer’s BAC estimate will be artificially high.

To drive home these flaws with the jury, many Hutchinson criminal law attorneys partner with chemists, chemistry graduate students, or other expert witnesses.

In blood test cases, the prosecutor must produce the sample in court. Sometimes, there are chain of custody issues. This sample must travel from the defendant’s body to a lab to a holding area and to the courthouse. If any period is unaccounted for, the evidence could be tainted.

Additionally, Hutchinson criminal law attorneys may order retests from independent labs. Many times, these independent results are different from the one obtained in a police lab.

Rely on Experienced Lawyers

There are several different ways to beat a DUI case. For a free consultation with experienced Hutchinson criminal law attorneys, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.

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