The Omaha World-Herald is the latest publication to cite an ancient study about the benefits of sobriety checkpoints in Washington D.C. The study, which is now more than 20 years old, compared vigorous enforcement efforts in Virginia to arrests at Maryland DUI checkpoints. It determined the publicity around the Maryland checkpoints led to the erroneous perception that Maryland had tougher DUI enforcement. Since then, Fairfax County has started running about 25 checkpoints a year.
A D.C. drunk driving defense lawyer should always be consulted when a motorist is charged with drunk driving at a law enforcement roadblock — or (as they like to call them) sobriety checkpoint. All DUI arrests can be challenged on a number of fronts, including probable cause, the results of field sobriety or blood-alcohol tests and the training and conduct of officers at the scene. However, there are many other ways to challenge arrests that come as the result of a law enforcement roadblock.
In some senses, the article was right. Constantly publicizing sobriety checkpoints can give the appearance of enforcement. The government’s continued insistence that checkpoints are a deterrent means that grant money is often available. And wherever you find overtime details, you will find defensive officers praising their value to taxpayers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz (1990) that properly conducted checkpoints are constitutional — despite your Fourth Amendment Right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The court at least nodded toward the Constitution by placing a number of restrictions on such checkpoints. Today, departments must have a plan for treating motorists equally. And there are a host of ways for a defense lawyer to challenge arrests that stem from DUI checkpoints.
The truth of the matter is that substantially less than 1 percent of all drunk driving arrests occur at sobriety checkpoints. They have not been a credible law enforcement tool for many years. And whatever marginal value they once had has been eroded by cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and even smartphone apps that warn of an approaching checkpoint. And they continue to pose a safety hazard to the officers who work them and to other motorists on the road.
But they pay overtime! And they are a tool to convince the public that their tax dollars are hard at work keeping them safe. So checkpoints are not going away anytime soon.
If you are facing DUI charges in Washington D.C., contact The Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC for a free consultation by calling (202) 596-5716 or by filling out an online contact form. Visa, MasterCard, and Discover cards are accepted.