DUI checkpoints, or sobriety checkpoints, are well-marked, stationary roadblocks conducted by PA police officers who make stops to check for intoxicated drivers. Pennsylvania police officers use a predetermined objective standard to determine which drivers to stop. Public policy in Pennsylvania supports the use of these checkpoint measures because the DUI checkpoints serve as a deterrent to potential PA drunk drivers, and the PA DUI checkpoints seek to remove dangerous drivers from the roads.
PA DUI checkpoints involve a search and seizure; therefore, they are subject to protections under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the roadblock is systematic, non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary, and that it is intended to ensure highway safety.
Determining the Constitutionality of DUI Checkpoints in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania courts conduct a balancing test to determine the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints. The balancing test considers these three factors: the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure; the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest; and the severity of the interference with individual liberty.
The following requirements must be met:
1. The initial PA vehicle stop during which the driver is first observed must be brief and cannot include a physical search of the vehicle or the occupants;
2. Motorists cannot be caught by surprise, but must have sufficient advance visual notice (and, advisably, media notice) of the DUI checkpoint or roadblock;
3. The decision to hold the roadblock must be made by supervisory officials acting in an administrative or managerial capacity, not by patrol officers in PA;
4. The location and time of operation of the roadblock must be based on verifiable criteria as to the history of drunken driving incidents and arrests at the chosen locale within PA; and
5. The determination of which vehicles to stop must be based on administrative decisions relying upon objective standards.
DUI Checkpoint Example
The following is an example of a Pennsylvania DUI checkpoint or roadblock that satisfied the above guidelines. The DUI checkpoint’s time and location were selected by the police chief after a statistical review of prior incidents, times and occurrences of drunk drivers. Notice of the time, location and procedure was published in advance by a local newspaper. The area was illuminated by a fire truck and advance signs were posted. Every fifth car was stopped and to ensure the stop was brief, only basic questions were asked of each driver.
Procedure for PA DUI Checkpoints
Pennsylvania DUI checkpoints often involve (1) an initial stop, (2) questioning of the driver, and, if the individual shows signs of intoxication, (3) the administration of tests, i.e., field sobriety tests, followed by chemical testing of the breath, blood or urine.
Unconstitutional PA DUI Checkpoints
If it is determined that the DUI checkpoint has failed to comply with the foregoing guidelines, a knowledgeable PA DUI lawyer may seek to suppress any evidence obtained from the stop, including the results of the field sobriety test or chemical test.
Other PA DUI Checkpoint Issues
If a motorist lawfully avoids the checkpoint, an officer must have evidence of a violation of the Vehicle Code or criminal law before the officer can make the stop. It is not enough that the officer suspects a drunk driver of trying to avoid the checkpoint for the officer to make the stop.
PA DUI Attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
The Martin Law Firm offers a free consultation if you are arrested and charged with DUI in King of Prussia, Norristown, Ambler or anywhere in Montgomery County, PA or any of the surrounding counties.
Contact an attorney at The Martin Law Firm at (215) 646-3980.