As long as DWI checkpoints and sobriety roadblocks have been used in this state there have been detractors who ask if the cost in equipment, manpower and officer overtime is really worth the effort of bringing in a handful of alleged drunken drivers from time to time. Here in the Garden State, the random operation of sobriety checkpoints certainly has given more than one driver pause to get behind the wheel of his or her car following an evening with friends at a restaurant, bar or private residence.
As long-time DWI defense attorneys, I and my team of experienced trial lawyers have dedicated ourselves to helping those motorists who believe that they did not deserve being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One of the many ways in which New Jersey drivers end up in front of a municipal or county judge is when they are arrested for DWI or drug DUI at one of the numerous drunk driving roadblocks that go up on weekends and during various national holidays.
Although law enforcement agencies throughout the state have it in their authority to set up sobriety roadblocks, there are limitations and rules that must be followed. For example, the police are required by law to place a public announcement (stating when and where) prior to the erection of any sobriety or DWI checkpoint. Furthermore, the placement of these roadblocks must be in an area that has a history of prior DWI activity; in other words, they cannot be placed anywhere the police authorities choose.
But even though there is advance warning that a checkpoint will be operating in an area known to be a common place where drunk drivers have been spotted and arrested by the police, still dozens upon dozens of motorists each year are arrested at these locations and charged with operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, doctor-prescribed medication or an illegal substance (also known as a controlled dangerous substance, or CDS).
As drivers ourselves, we welcome the added safety of not having to confront an impaired driver on a tow-lane road in the middle of the night. But as drunk driving defense lawyers, we often must question the procedures and methods that lead to the arrest of many a New Jersey driver on DWI or drug DUI charges. A recent article in the news seems to indicate that fewer and fewer motorists are being caught drunk at these roadblocks.
The first comment that seems to come from law enforcement is that the public is finally getting the message — that drunk driving is against the law and that sobriety checkpoints and other anti-DWI police efforts are making a profound difference. Of course, there is more than one way to interpret a decline in arrests, but one thing is certain: as long as there is funding for these roadblocks, their use will likely continue unabated regardless of whether their effectiveness is on the wane or not.
Based on that news story, the Monmouth County DWI Task Force has been setting up various checkpoints in and around the county for many years. Typically, these DWI roadblocks begin operation on a Friday evening around 11pm and continue into the early morning hours on Saturday. This past May 17, according to police, more than 500 vehicles passed through a checkpoint on Rte 36 in Union Beach one night; yet only one of those motorists was charged with driving under the influence. Similarly, back on May 3, only one driver was arrested for DWI out of nearly 400 stopped at a checkpoint in Eatontown, NJ.
Is this miniscule ratio of drunk to sober drivers worth the money going into these efforts? And, what is the impact on roadway safety? Police and traffic safety experts argue that checkpoints serve a number of different purposes. First and foremost, according to police, these roadblocks allow law enforcement to catch any violators that drive appear at the roadblock; Secondly, the act as a deterrent to any people who may be considering that they could drink and drive without consequences.
If people are actually more aware of the consequences of drinking and driving, and hence making an effort to get a sober ride home, this would appear to be a positive for society. Time will tell, we suppose, especially if federal and state coffers continue to shrink while the economy tries to rebound. Of course, if states begin to take the advice of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has called for a tightening of the legal limit for drunkenness to 0.05 percent blood-alcohol concentration, then we may see a resurgence of DWI arrests; not only at sobriety checkpoints, but in general all across the state.
Police: Drivers getting the message on DWI; GMNews.com; June 6, 2013