New Jersey Driver Convicted of Drunken Driving Following Arrest at a Bergen DWI Checkpoint Loses Appeal

Sobriety checkpoints, also known as drunk driving roadblocks, can be the source of many drunken driving arrests. For many drivers, being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication, even illicit drugs or CDS (controlled dangerous substances), can begin a chain of events that can lead to a DWI or drug DUI conviction.

Penalties for driving while intoxicated in the Garden State can not only put a dent in one’s wallet, but can also lead to jail time depending on the circumstances or if the defendant already has previous DWI convictions under his or her belt. In some cases, an appeal can be mounted, which can either overturn a lower court’s decision or reduce the penalties associated with the original conviction.

Sometimes, however, an appeal can be turned down based on the facts of the case. One such example of a failed appeal is the case of New Jersey v. Robert Brembt. Decided last year, this particular case involved the conviction of Mr. Brembt by a Bergen County court. Court records show that Brembt’s appeal was based on his contention that the sobriety checkpoint at which he was arrested for DWI violated the standards set forth in the 1985 case of State v. Kirk.

Brembt was initially stopped at a DWI checkpoint on a stretch of Wyckoff Ave. in Waldwick Twp on May 24, 2008. The stop occurred just before 1am, at which time an officer approached Brembt’s vehicle and observed that the defendant’s eyes were “glassy and watery.” The patrolman also reportedly saw two open beer cans in the vehicle, as well as smelling alcohol on the man’s breath.

The officer asked Brembt to recite the alphabet, count backward, and perform other field sobriety tests. Based on defendant’s performance of these tests, police concluded that Brembt was impaired due to alcohol and arrested him at the scene. He was charged with DWI in a school zone, having an open alcohol container in his vehicle, and reckless driving.

Brembt and his attorney filed a motion to suppress arguing that the sobriety checkpoint did not meet the State v. Kirk requirements. However, the lower court conducted an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion. As a result, Brempt entered a conditional plea agreement, in which he reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. He then pled guilty to DWI, while the other charges were dismissed. The man was sentenced 48 hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) and a month’s worth of community service. His driver’s license was and vehicle registration was suspended for two years, and fines and penalties were imposed.

While a sobriety checkpoint or DWI roadblock is considered a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey State Constitution, State v. Kirk does not require police to show probable cause when stopping any individual motorist, however it does require that the police show some rational basis for deploying that kind of enforcement technique.

In short, as the court has said, simply sending patrolmen out to set up roadblocks when and wherever they felt like (without any command participation as to location, time and duration) would likely not pass constitutional review.

In the end, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision, essentially denying Mr. Brembt’s appeal. The court argued that the checkpoint in question had been implemented through a memorandum developed by the lieutenant in charge of the Traffic Bureau in the Waldwick Police Department and also approved by the Bergen County Prosecutor.

That memorandum allowed patrolmen to pull over every third car, however if traffic density and road conditions warranted it, the police could at their discretion stop every vehicle. Although Brembt argued that allowing the police to decide when traffic conditions permitted stopping every vehicle this gave the officers in charge too much discretion and was therefore in direct violation of State v. Kirk.

The appeals court rejected his argument saying that the decision whether to stop every vehicle or every third vehicle was not made not by the officers but by the lieutenant and two police chiefs who were also on the scene. Under those circumstances, the court concluded, the decision to stop every vehicle instead of every third vehicle was appropriately limited and supervised and did not “run afoul of the State v. Kirk requirement.”

Other arguments were offered by the defendant-appellant, however the court found no irregularities with the lower court’s previous ruling and upheld Mr. Brempt’s original conviction.