New Jersey Sobriety Checkpoints: Drunk Driving Roadblocks Are Just Another Tool in DWI Traffic Enforcement

There is a good chance that as a motorist here in the Garden State, you or someone you know may have either seen or been subject to one of the many drunken driving roadblocks that pop up here and there across the state every month. For those who are unfamiliar with these “tools of the trade,” understand that they are designed to catch motorists who may be intoxicated behind the wheel by being located in areas know to have a statistically high incidence of DWI.

As New Jersey drunk driving lawyers, we seem to get numerous questions from potential clients regarding the legitimacy of these roadblocks, or DWI checkpoints as they are also referred. When asked by prospective clients, we must tell them that, yes, the constitutionality of these police roadblocks was addressed (back in 1979) by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court (Delaware v. Prouse).

In the aforementioned case, it was decided that it was unconstitutional to stop and detain a motorist without articulable suspicion that he or she is either unlicensed, his or her car is unregistered, or the vehicle or its occupant(s) is otherwise subject to seizure for a violation of law. This seemed like a win for those opposed to sobriety checkpoints, however the issue was again addressed here in New Jersey (State v. Kirk) in the 1980s.

In Kirk, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that temporary roadblocks erected by law enforcement agencies were unconstitutional in the absence of some “safeguards.” These included the identification of various procedures to ensure proper supervisory control at checkpoints, as well as provision of warnings to motorist in advance of an anticipated roadblock.

Subsequent cases followed (such as State v. Moskal), which established a requirement that valid roadblocks be operated in locations that have had a history of arrests; that their use fosters public safety and awareness; and that the times and locales be published in advance. As many drivers know, especially those who have driven during the late evening or early morning hours on a weekend or even during certain holidays, these checkpoints are in use from time to time.

Much of the funding for these operations comes from state and federal coffers. As a recent article indicates, municipalities are often the recipients of monies earmarked for traffic safety and anti-DWI enforcement. Not only ago, in fact, the Jersey City Police Department received nearly a $28,000 grant for pedestrian and traffic safety in the city. As the article explained, those funds would allow the department to step up enforcement of aggressive driving and drunk driving violations, among others.

Unless one has actually been flagged over at one of those sobriety checkpoints, it may be useful to refer to the weekly police blotter reports to see the results of DWI roadblock in action. For example, consider the half dozen motorists who ran afoul of a mid-March sobriety checkpoint. Based on news reports, this particular roadblock apparently coincided with the St. Patrick’s Day weekend and allowed police from two Union County municipalities to net five arrests in the early morning hours on a Sunday.

According to news article, the roadblock was set up on South Ave. just on the border between Garwood and Westfield, NJ. During the operation, two of the five arrestees — a 49-year-old female and a 26-year-old male — were each charged with DWI. The remaining three motorists were arrested and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). These three people included a 42-year-old man from Piscataway, a 19-year-old local man, and a second 29-year-old Piscataway resident.

State gives Jersey City police $27,900 for pedestrian and traffic safety initiative, NJ.com, April 5, 2013
Garwood-Westfield Police DWI Checkpoint Leads to Five Arrests, Patch.com, March 18, 2013