Defense of New Jersey
DWI and Criminal Cases

How Constitutional Are Sobriety Checkpoints

Constitutional

This article will discuss whether it is legal in the state of New Jersey to have a DWI or sobriety checkpoint or roadblock set up and if this is not in violation of the constitution. Please note that the following discussion should be understood only as a general overview. This is not legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney for advice as to a specific legal matter.

A DWI checkpoint officer stops drivers using a pattern or sequence, for example, stopping every third car. Once the vehicle has stopped, the officer evaluates drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that DWI checkpoints do not require probable cause provided that certain criteria are followed. The high court decision held that the government’s interest in reducing alcohol related injuries was sufficient in justifying a brief intrusion of a checkpoint. This decision was made in the case of Delaware v. Prouse, and expanded upon in Michigan Department of State Police vs Sitz. The Sitz case was brought forward by a group of Michigan residents on the grounds that their fourth amendment rights, prohibiting “unreasonable search and seizure” were being violated as a result of the state police adopting the practice of using random sobriety checkpoints to deter or apprehend drunk drivers. It was noted that the element of surprise was crucial to the checkpoint tactic.

During the operation drivers would be stopped and briefly questioned while in their vehicles, if an officer suspected intoxication the driver would be sent off for a field sobriety test. The U. S. Supreme Court case involved the constitutionality of the police sobriety checkpoints and a vote of 6-3 held that these checkpoints met the fourth amendment standard of ‘reasonable search and seizure’. However, it must be noted that 11 states do not permit DWI/DUI checkpoints and those that do often have special requirements for the police to follow.

In the state of New Jersey, according to 567 A.2d 277 (N.J. Super. 1989) sobriety checkpoints are legal. Such checkpoints, also referred to as mobile checkpoints or roadblocks, are police traffic stops that are not tied to any specific or individual suspicion. It is important to note that the locations that are chosen to set up a checkpoint are temporary.  It must be noted that a driver may be able to learn more about when or where such checkpoints will be instituted in New Jersey by checking relevant websites and through news media.

During a sobriety checkpoint drivers are briefly detained and interviewed after which suspicious drivers are subjected to sobriety tests. The goal of a checkpoint is to weed out inebriated drivers and keep the roads safer. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sobriety checkpoints have the potential of preventing nearly in 1 out of 10 DUI-related deaths.

Therefore, while the police are required to have probable cause for a traffic stop, the U. S. Supreme Court ruling allows an exception for properly designated and supervised sobriety checkpoints. For the best DWI attorneys seek out a law firm handling DWI cases.