Drunk Driving Roadblocks Suspended in Elmwood Park, NJ, But Not for Long

First and foremost, anti-drunken driving enforcement in the Garden State is handled in a number of ways. While enhanced roving DWI patrols in counties like Monmouth, Bergen and Ocean are often used before and during popular holidays, such as July Fourth, New Year’s, Memorial Day and others, drunk driving checkpoints, or Sobriety roadblocks as they are also known, are randomly set up all over the state usually in the late evening and early morning hours on Fridays and Saturdays — days of the week that typically have a higher incidence of motorists driving while intoxicated.

As New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyers, I and my legal staff are familiar with the typical tactics used by state and municipal law enforcement agencies to catch drivers who may be operating their car, truck or motorcycle while impaired due to alcohol or prescription drug use. In a percentage of cases, drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of illicit drugs (also known as controlled dangerous substances), like cocaine and marijuana (drug DUI).

When it comes to Sobriety checkpoints, these are commonly used by police departments to catch drunken drivers and help reduce many of the alcohol-related traffic accidents and fatalities throughout the state. So as to be fair, especially under New Jersey state law, state, county and municipal law enforcement authorities are required to publish the operating times and specific locations of upcoming sobriety roadblocks.

As drunk driving defense attorneys representing New Jersey drivers who have been accused of DWI or DUI, we know that that the mandatory public notification of these drunk driving checkpoints are not always published in the most convenient or accessible manner. This is why, from time to time, we ourselves post notices of upcoming or active DWI roadblocks for public use.

It is our contention that if the public knows about the existence of a checkpoint/roadblock, then there would be a better chance that individuals would perhaps avoid the general area during those hours, especially due to the greater likelihood of coming into contact with a drunk driver. This is because, police departments are limited by law to set up DWI checkpoints only in areas that have a historically high rate of drunk driving arrests or accidents.

It goes without saying that during a DWI roadblock, motorists who are stopped by police may be subjected to field sobriety testing and/or breathalyzer testing as a way to determine the driver’s blood-alcohol content, or BAC. We would remind any one who has been issued a summons for drunken driving arising from a police stop at a DWI checkpoint to seriously consider retaining a qualified drunk driving defense attorney to better understand one’s rights under the law.

Not long ago, the borough of Elmwood Park announced that it would suspend all DWI checkpoints following an overtime pay controversy surrounding the municipality’s chielf of police. According to news articles, Police Chief Don Ingrasselino received more than $29,000 in overtime pay for his personal involvement with Elmwood Park’s weekly DWI checkpoints. The period in question ran from January 2010 through October 6 of this year. Based on news reports, that overtime pay equated to more than ten percent of the chief’s annual salary of $205,000.

The concern coming from the borough’s attorney’s office is whether or not the collecting of overtime pay, provided by state and federal funding, is actually legal. According to the article, the borough’s attorney does not believe collecting overtime funds is in the police chief’s contract. Apparently it was at one time, however it no longer is, according to news reports.

While some Elmwood Park officials believe that keeping drunken motorists off local road should be one of the municipality’s top priorities, there is a legal question of whether the money that funds the DWI checkpoint program is coming directly from local tax payers. In other words, where there is grant money provided by taxes on local residents, the municipality would rather those funds go to benefit the borough rather than be passed on to other towns.

Based on news articles, the Elmwood Park Police Department receives grant money through the New Jersey Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund (or NJDDEF), which stipulates that local police departments are entitled to all but $5 of the $100 surcharge levied against a convicted drunken driver in that community. Furthermore, a minimum of half of the grant monies must be used to pay for officers’ overtime for enhanced DWI patrols, drunk driving checkpoints or drunk driving-related courtroom proceedings. The balance of the grant monies can go toward officer training, equipment purchases, or other DWI-related tasks.

DWI checkpoints suspended in light of chief controversy in Elmwood Park, NorthJersey.com, October 18, 2011