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Another Look at the Standards for DUI, OUI Roadblocks and Checkpoints in Massachusetts

Orange County, California police made 843 drunk-driving arrests between August 17 and September 3, according to the Orange County Register. Police used checkpoints and heavy patrols over the period and expect that this year’s DUI arrest numbers will be higher than last year’s numbers. The police plan to use similar measures around both Halloween and Thanksgiving. Funding is provided by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Here in Massachusetts, drunk-driving / OUI / DUI / DWI checkpoints or roadblocks constitute warrantless seizures. Thus, they must be reasonable, and the prosecution has the burden of proving that the roadblock in question was reasonable. In order to meet that burden, the prosecution must at least prove that police followed certain guidelines. The purpose of requiring that police stay in line with guidelines is to ensure that there are “neutral limitations” on the officers. The idea is that “neutral limitations” serve to limit officer discretion as it relates to individuals’ expectation of privacy and to minimize individuals’ fear and inconvenience. The prosecution is not required to prove that the checkpoint or roadblock was the least intrusive measure available.

One problem with these “neutral limitations” is that they do not do much in the way of curbing police discretion. The Supreme Judicial Court has held that the screening officer, the officer who first comes into contact with the drivers, is not required to send the drivers along to the second point. This is so even if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver may be drunk. The SJC reasoned that even though this might open the possibility of abuse of police discretion (i.e. singling out certain motorists based on race, sex, ethnicity, economic status, etc.), the risk is no different in roadblock cases than in normal street encounters.

The constitutionality of the roadblock seizures is measured by compliance with these “neutral” guidelines, and there does not need to be any individualized suspicion. According to Massachusetts courts, compliance with the guidelines must be “strict.” It is not enough that police “substantially” complied.

Massachusetts OUI checkpoints must be in “problem areas.” The area must be one in which police have previously made drunk-driving arrests. Courts consider the age of the previous OUI arrests in determining whether the site- selection requirement has been met. In one case, the Appeals Court decided that reliance on a 2-year-old report indicating that OUI arrests and accidents had occurred at the roadblock site was too old.

There were three Massachusetts roadblocks in August, according to DUIblock.com. The three took place in West Springfield, Hingham and Stoughton. There has been one roadblock in September so far, which took place on Thorndike Street in Lowell, according to that website. Statistics indicate that drunk-driving / DUI / OUI / DWI roadblocks and checkpoints are not uncommon in Massachusetts.


If you have been charged with operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Massachusetts, contact the Law Offices of Stephen Neyman, P.C. at 617 263-6800. Attorney Neyman has more than two decades of experience.