Being flagged down at an unexpected police roadblock can be unnerving enough, even if one hasn’t spent a night out on the town. As any motorist in the Garden State knows, however, there are few easy solutions to being caught driving drunk when it comes to New Jersey police officers. In fact, the circumstances that can eventually lead to an arrest for DWI or drug DUI can be many and varied. One particular situation is that of the frequent sobriety roadblock, or DUI checkpoint. Motorists who find themselves in such a scary scenario may appreciate the following insights from our expert DWI defense staff.
As New Jersey defense attorneys specializing in drunken driving cases, my colleagues and I take pride in serving residents of Bergen, Essex, Ocean and Monmouth counties, among many others. We believe whole heartedly that knowledge is power; when a driver understands what he or she may be facing in terms of drunk driving charges and possible penalties, that information can help a person better make an informed and confident decision.
Whatever the cause or events leading up to a drunken driving arrest, being stopped by a New Jersey state trooper or local cop is usually the first of many steps that can eventually lead to a potentially costly and drunken driving conviction. Whether one is accused of excessive alcohol consumption or an unexpected reaction to some doctor-prescribed medication (drug DUI), knowing what typically awaits a motorist at a sobriety roadblock can perhaps ease his or her anxiety and calm that person’s nerves.
Of course, one of the first things that potential clients invariably ask us is whether or not sobriety checkpoints, in general, are legal. The fairness of sobriety roadblocks, or DWI checkpoints, has been topic for vigorous debate now and in the past. Many of our clients question the use of these checkpoints as a way to catch and arrest motorists who may or may not have done anything wrong. Naturally, the police are usually looking for people who might be operating their car or truck while under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance, but they often catch other violators in this wide and indiscriminate net.
The negative reaction that many people have to roadside checkpoints arises often because of the seemingly random nature of this kind of law enforcement effort. Not unexpectedly, New Jersey state law calls for a variety of technical procedures designed to safeguard the public against unreasonable detention and seizure when stopped at a DWI roadblock.
The constitutionality of police roadblocks was addressed as far back as 1979 when in the U.S. Supreme Court case known as Delaware v. Prouse the Court held that it was unconstitutional to stop and detain a driver absent articulable suspicion that a driver was unlicensed, or that the car or truck he was driving was unregistered, or even that the motor vehicle or one of its passengers was otherwise subject due to a violation of law.
Here in the Garden State, the police roadblock issue was again reviewed in State v. Kirk, which resulted in a determination by the Court that temporary police roadblocks were unconstitutional absent certain safeguards. Those safeguards were specified as procedures for ensuring supervisory control of a DWI checkpoint, as well as providing warnings to the general public that a roadblock would be erected.
Still later, in State v. Moskal, the Court held that sobriety checkpoints would be valid so long as the location of the roadblock is chosen based on the historical drunken driving arrest rates in the particular area of that intended checkpoint. Furthermore, the Court stated that the operation of any DWI roadblock should also promote public safety. In fact, as part of the Moskal decision, the Court held that time, date and location of any drunk driving checkpoint must be published to provide motorists with notice of the coming police operation.
When arriving at this kind of drunken driving sobriety checkpoint, quite often motorists will be approached by a patrolman, who will most likely ask the driver to exit the vehicle and perform one or more of the standardized field sobriety tests, which are so often recreated on TV and in the movies. The use of field sobriety tests is frequently important for a police officer to determine the possibility that a motorist is intoxicated.
Failing to pass one or more of these field sobriety tests at a drunk driving roadblock can lead to a DWI arrest. The observations by a police officer of the subject performing these tests can also be held up in court by the prosecution to show some level of impairment. If a motorist fails a field sobriety test(s), the next step could easily be an arrest followed by a breath test to confirm the patrolman’s suspicions and to establish a specific blood-alcohol content (BAC) measurement for use as evidence against the driver in court.
Obviously, retaining a qualified attorney who is skilled in representing individual s accused of DWI, DUI, drug DUI or breath test refusal, is a good first step. If convicted of drunk driving, the resulting monetary penalties can be quite harsh. Depending on whether the defendant is a first-time offender, or has been convicted of multiple DWIs, the financial cost can be substantial, especially when one factors in mandatory auto insurance premium increases across multiple years.