Articles Posted in Sobriety Checkpoints

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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 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.

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On May 10, 2011, United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, pressed Google, Inc. and Apple, Inc. to remove smartphone applications that warn users of DUI checkpoints. Using GPS capabilities, these applications also alert users to red light cameras and speed traps.

Schumer questioned the companies’ executives at the inaugural hearing of the Privacy and Technology Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary as to whether the apps facilitate illegal activity, thereby violating terms of service. The apps “endanger public safety by allowing drunk drivers to avoid police checkpoints,” Schumer said, according to PCWorld blog. “Apple and Google shouldn’t be in the business of selling apps that help drunk drivers evade the police, and they shouldn’t be selling apps that they themselves admit are ‘terrible,'” he said, according to a press release from Schumer used “Buzzed” and “Fuzz Alert” as examples of apps that should be removed from application stores. Executives from the companies will report to Congress within a month as to whether the apps violate the terms of service.

Research In Motion (RIM), Blackberry’s application maker, has removed the apps in response to a March letter from Schumer and Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Tom Udall (D-NM).

“If people are going to use those (apps), what other purpose are they going to use them for except to drink and drive?” one police officer said, according to a press release from In fact, however, these apps offer various services that may prevent drunk driving. For example, “Buzzed” offers a feature that allows users to call cabs based on users’ GPS locations. Another such app, Trapster, provides drunk driving “Frequently Asked Questions” that warn users against driving under the influence.

The wisdom of the policy behind this movement is questionable at best. Many, including many of those in law enforcement, believe that awareness of police presence deters drunk driving. Without that awareness, some may actually be more inclined to drink and drive. In line with this reasoning, many police departments across the country announce the locations of DUI checkpoints or announce checkpoint plans without disclosing the location. Additionally, it is doubtful that removing these apps will prevent information regarding DUI checkpoints from getting out to the public, given the fact that concerned persons can always check the Internet.

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The holidays are upon us — and with them come a lot of parties and family gatherings that offer opportunities to drink. Police agencies are very aware of drunk driving during the holidays, and they tend to step up their enforcement efforts on the days they believe people are most likely to drive drunk. In fact, according to a Nov. 6 article in the Woburn Advocate, the Massachusetts state police have already started. In that article, they announced a sobriety roadblock in Middlesex County on Friday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Nov. 14.

In my experience as a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney, drivers can expect to see more of these roadblocks, particularly on the nights before and after major holidays. That’s why I would like to take a moment to explain the rights of Massachusetts motorists caught in a sobriety checkpoint. A sobriety checkpoint is essentially a roadblock in which law enforcement stops motorists to check them for signs of impairment by alcohol or drugs. It is completely legal for law enforcement to stop every driver, regardless of whether there’s evidence of intoxication, and detain them briefly. However, roadblocks in Massachusetts must be conducted according to guidelines created by the Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety and in accordance with Massachusetts case law and state and federal constitutional guidelines. If the police fail to adhere to those guidelines, the entire stop and all of the evidence it produced may be thrown out of court, ending any drunk driving prosecution.

It’s also important for drivers to realize that all of their civil rights still apply at a sobriety checkpoint. Drivers must provide license and registration, but they are under no obligation to answer extra questions about where they’ve been, where they’re going or whether they were drinking. They also have the right to decline to allow a search of the vehicle. Police cannot search a vehicle without your permission unless they have probable cause. Drivers can legally decline to perform field sobriety tests and may also decline a breath test, although they will face an automatic license suspension if they do so. However, it’s important to decline all of these things as politely as possible, because bad blood with law enforcement officers can result in being unreasonably verbally abused, detained or arrested. An experienced Massachusetts drunk driving defense lawyer can help clients have unreasonable, illegal charges dismissed — but not before an arrest, night in jail and other unpleasant personal and financial consequences.

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Last Saturday night Beverly, Massachusetts police pulled over twenty seven cars through the authority of a sobriety checkpoint. Ultimately twelve people were arrested and charged with OUI. The roadblock operated from eleven Saturday night to three in the morning. All have been charged with OUI. Their cases are pending in the Salem District Court.

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Twelve Charged After Massachusetts Sobriety Checkpoint Stops

So what exactly is a sobriety checkpoint? Sobriety checkpoints are temporary roadblocks designed and used by law enforcement to catch people who are operating under the influence of alcohol. Officers stop a specific number of vehicles at these checkpoints to see if drivers are impaired. There are certain constitutional restrictions on the use and implementation of sobriety checkpoints. If these regulations are violated or altered the result could be a dismissal of your OUI case. The United States Supreme Court has held that sobriety checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment because of the public interest in keeping drunk drivers off the roads. Massachusetts Courts agree with this general proposition. In Massachusetts the Secretary of Public Safety promulgates guidelines that dictate how the checkpoints must be conducted. Assuming these meet with constitutional muster the police must adhere to the guidelines when engaging in a sobriety checkpoint operation. Many OUI cases in Massachusetts are won by the defense when it is shown that these procedures were not properly applied.

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