It is widely established that the stopping of a motor vehicle by the police constitutes a seizure within its meaning in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, for a long time there was doubt as to what constituted a valid stop. These doubts were erased in the landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court Delaware v. Prouse. In that case, the court held that the police must have at least an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a violation of the traffic laws has occurred. This may include, but is certainly not limited to, suspicions that the driver is unlicensed, the vehicle is not properly registered, or that an occupant within the vehicle is subject to seizure for a violation of the law.
Two of the more popular reasons for stopping a motor vehicle are the traffic violations of a broken headlight or failure to maintain a lane. If you are driving with a broken light anywhere on your vehicle, more likely than not, you will be stopped by an officer at some point to at least receive a warning for having a light out. If you are struggling to maintain a lane at night for whatever reason, you will also more likely than not be stopped. The detaining officer may then come upon a number of things that may lead him to believe that you are intoxicated, the most likely reasons being the plain view exception (that he spots an alcoholic container in the car) and the plain smell doctrine (the officer can smell alcohol on your breath).
Once a stop is affected, the detaining officer is under an obligation to conduct his business in a reasonable time. This most times means that he must at a minimum obtain your driving credentials and run it through the police system to see prior traffic or other law violations, all of which takes time, but, in relation to drunk driving, a reasonable stop is considered to be one that lasts no longer than is necessary to effectuate its purpose. This does not mean that if he or she stops you for one thing and then comes upon evidence related to drunkenness that the officer cannot then question you about alcohol related offenses, it only means that they may not detain you unnecessarily long without probable cause for doing so.
How do traffic stops work then in relation to your Fifth Amendment Miranda Rights? It has been held in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Berkemer v. McCarty that anytime the police wish to conduct a custodial interrogation of the defendant, they must first inform him of his constitutional rights. This means, in essence, that there is no requirement that police inform detained motorists of their Miranda rights unless or until the police place a given motorist or vehicle occupant under arrest and wish to conduct a custodial interrogation. You have a right to remain silent, though, at all times, but know that this right is weighed against policy and is not an absolute protection. For instance, if you are in an accident, you have an affirmative duty to relate the incident to the police.
What about DWI Roadblocks, are these against my constitutional rights? In short, the answer to this question is no. In the New Jersey Appellate Division of Superior Court in the case of State v. Kirk, our courts have upheld the reasonableness of DWI checkpoints. Three criteria, however, must be met for the roadblock to be legitimate. The roadblock must be established under the auspices of established police command authority. Next, the area where the roadblock is to take place must be carefully targeted at a specific time based upon objective data justifying the site selection. Lastly, adequate warnings must be given the public near the site of the roadblock. For more detailed discussion on the topics of roadblocks and DWI check points please consult our page on them.
Are there any defenses that I might have against the legitimacy of my stop? The answer to this question is unequivocally yes. Most, if not all, police vehicles are equipped with cameras now that film all of their stops. This means, in terms of evidence, especially for a stop related to failure to maintain a lane that often an experienced attorney can attack the legitimacy of the probable cause related to the stop to get the DWI charge thrown out for being an illegal seizure in relation to your Fourth Amendment rights. An experienced attorney may also be able to question the reasonableness of a roadblock based on the criteria outlined in relation to their effective use by the state court.
If you have been stopped under any circumstances, effective representation can be the difference between having this information suppressed and going to jail. Here at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, we have over 100 years of collective experience defending DWI and criminal offenses. In addition to having four of our lawyers certified in the operation of the Alcotest 7110, the breath test device used in the state of New Jersey to measure BAC, we also boast three of only five attorneys in the state that are Certified Field Sobriety Instructors, instructors that know the ins and outs of the protocol that must be followed by police in performing Field Sobriety Tests following a valid stop. We have the experience to help you. So please do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation today.