The Rules for a DUI/DWI Check Point are Different Than for a Routine Traffic Stop. Know the Difference!
Having just survived the holiday season and with the Super Bowl right around the corner, chances are that you’ve seen at least one New Jersey DUI/DWI sobriety checkpoint over the last several weeks. We keep an eye on state police statistics here at DeMichele & DeMichele, and last year’s Super Bowl weekend saw an uptick in DUI/DWI arrests on state road over recent years.
What do you need to know about DUI/DWI checkpoints?
First and foremost, even before pulling you over for a routine non-check point stop, a police officer must always have “probable cause” to do so. Probable cause could be anything from the motorist’s failure to maintain a lane (i.e. swerving on the road) and speeding to a single “out” headlight or an expired vehicle registration.
DUI/DWI checkpoints are an exception to the general rule. The key case in this area of the law was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990. The Michigan v. Sitz Court upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court specifically held that the government’s interest in limiting drunk driving justified the inconvenience imposed by a sobriety checkpoint. In other words, the justices of the majority believe the importance of stopping drunk driving permits limitations on driver’s constitutional rights. Therefore, in a majority of U.S. states including New Jersey, sobriety checkpoints are not illegal “searches or seizures,” a loaded term which is familiar to most non-lawyers.
What does Sitz mean to New Jersey drivers? Annoyed motorists usually complain about how checkpoints result in their being pulled over “without cause.” Strictly speaking that’s true. What motorists don’t realize is that “probable cause” (another phrase mentioned above and familiar to Americans from watching police television shows) isn’t an initial requirement of a lawful sobriety roadblock.
A 2002 New Jersey Supreme Court decision summarized the specific standard applied here in New Jersey:
If the road block was established by a command or supervisory authority and was carefully targeted to a designated area at a specified time and place based on data justifying the site selection for reasons of public safety and reasonably efficacious or productive law enforcement goals, the road block will likely pass constitutional muster. Other factors which enhanced judicial approval were (1) adequate warnings to avoid frightening the traveling public, (2) advance general publicity designed to deter drunken drivers from getting in cars in the first place, and (3) officially specified neutral and courteous procedures for the intercepting officers to follow when stopping drivers.
[State v. Carty, supra, 170 N.J. at 652-53 (quoting State v. Kirk, supra, 202 N.J. Super. at 40-41).]
As you can see, mounting a successful DUI/DWI defense is a multifaceted effort. You can’t afford to leave any stone “unturned.” The first step always involves examining the constitutionality of the initial stop itself. At DeMichele & DeMichele, our attorneys will closely evaluate the circumstances surrounding your DUI/DWI stop to ascertain whether the police had cause to pull you over. We will then proceed to analyze the state’s case, point-by-point, to protect your rights and hold the state to its proofs. We recognize that DWI/DUI carries consequences for our clients that go beyond fines and license suspension, including secondary effects to current and future employment. That’s why we treat every DUI/DWI as the serious charge that it is and zealously fight for you.
We’re here to help. Before you plead guilty to a DWI in New Jersey and lose your driving privilege, pay a substantial fine, pay surcharges, pay increased automobile insurance premiums and possibly go to jail, contact the DWI defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele.
Our lawyers have worked as municipal court prosecutors and public defenders in several South Jersey towns. A confidential free consultation with an experienced DWI attorney is just a call (856) 546-1350 or click away.