According to the latest statistics from the Pennsylvania State Police, state troopers made 18,801 arrests for driving under the influence (DUI) in 2015, a 6.2 percent increase from 2014. Significantly, the state police noted a 43 percent increase in the number of arrests for driving under the influence of drugs, also referred to as “drugged driving.” The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported a 25 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2016.
In response to the rising number of impaired drivers on Pennsylvania’s roadways, state and local police departments have begun using more even aggressive strategies to reduce the number of individuals driving while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances and other drugs. The penalties for a DUI conviction can be severe and may include mandatory jail time, loss of driving privileges and substantial fines and court costs.
DUI Checkpoint Enforcement in Pennsylvania
One of the strategies utilized by law enforcement officers involves the use of a DUI checkpoint, also known as a DUI roadblock. In Pennsylvania, a driver entering a DUI checkpoint will generally be subject to a vehicle stop, questioning by law enforcement and, in some cases, field sobriety testing and an eventual arrest for DUI. It is critical that you understand your constitutional rights if you have been subjected to a DUI checkpoint arrest.
Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint Guidelines
State and local police must conduct DUI checkpoints according to court-mandated rules and procedures. Law enforcement officers who break these rules can be found in violation of a motorist’s federal and state constitutional rights. I can evaluate the facts and circumstances of your case to determine whether the state or local police conducted the DUI checkpoint according to the legal guidelines.
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoints
State and local police typically conduct DUI checkpoints late at night or early in the morning at locations where the police believe they will find a higher-than-average number of impaired drivers. Law enforcement officers often schedule DUI checkpoints on holidays and weekends to encounter drivers returning from bars, restaurants or holiday parties.
Initial Police Contact at the DUI Checkpoint
Drivers entering a DUI checkpoint will be briefly detained by the police and asked to provide their driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. During this initial contact, the police will observe the inside of the vehicle for the presence of alcoholic beverages, drugs or drug paraphernalia. In some cases, the police will document the smell of alcohol or marijuana. The police will observe the driver for signs of impairment, including watery, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, the odor of alcohol on their breath and difficulty producing the required documents.
Field Sobriety Testing at the DUI Checkpoint
Drivers who do not display signs of impairment can leave without additional delay. Drivers suspected of impairment will be asked to complete field sobriety tests at a designated area away from the initial stop. Law enforcement officers may ask the driver to complete field sobriety tests including the walk and turn, finger-to-nose, one-legged stand or Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) examination. Drivers who cannot complete the field sobriety tests may be asked to submit to chemical testing of their blood, breath or urine to determine their blood alcohol level.
Search and Seizure Issues Involving a Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint
DUI roadblocks and checkpoints involve both searches and seizures and, thus, trigger the protections of the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania State Constitution. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have ruled that DUI checkpoints are legal if law enforcement officers follow specific procedures and protocols. I can review the circumstances of your DUI checkpoint arrest to determine whether the police conducted the investigation and arrest according to the law.
In the 1992 case of Pennsylvania v. Blouse, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court outlined guidelines that state and local law enforcement officers must follow for a DUI checkpoint to constitutional. In a trial involving a DUI checkpoint arrest, the prosecutor must prove that the police complied with all of the requirements of Blouse. If the police did not follow these guidelines, the trial court may suppress the evidence obtained by the police as a result of the DUI checkpoint arrest. That evidence may include the officer’s observations of driver’s performance during field sobriety tests and any chemical test results obtained by the police after the arrest.
Legal Requirements for a Valid Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint
According to Blouse, a DUI checkpoint must comply with the following rules and procedures:
Length of the Vehicle Stop Must be Brief
Any vehicle stops occurring because of a DUI checkpoint must be brief and may not involve a physical search of the vehicle’s driver or passengers. State and local police are permitted to ask the driver to produce his or her driver’s license, registration and insurance and answer a few questions. The police officer must wave through, without delay, those drivers who do not display signs of impairment.
Sufficient Warning of the DUI Checkpoint
The DUI checkpoint must be clearly identifiable, and drivers must receive sufficient notice of the checkpoint, typically through visible signage, flashing lights or marked police vehicles. Law enforcement officials should provide notice of the DUI checkpoint through the local media, including newspapers and the internet.
Prior Administrative Approval of the DUI Checkpoint
The decision to conduct a DUI checkpoint must be made by law enforcement officials acting in an administrative or managerial capacity. Patrol or field officers may not set up a DUI checkpoint without approval from a qualified supervisor.
DUI Checkpoint Location
The DUI checkpoint location and hours of operation must be based on local, verifiable information indicating that a higher-than-average number of impaired drivers would likely travel through this area during this particular time frame. To try to satisfy this requirement, state and local police often rely on statistical reports and other data indicating increased cases of DUI-related accidents and arrests during a specific time-frame at a particular location.
Predetermined and Objective Standard for Vehicle Stops
State and local police must use neutral, predetermined, administratively approved standards in deciding which vehicles to stop at the DUI checkpoint. For example, law enforcement may stop all vehicles, or may choose to stop every fifth vehicle. Police officers are not permitted to conduct vehicle stops based on a vehicle’s make, model or year, or a driver’s age, gender or ethnicity.
DUI Checkpoint Defense
I will thoroughly protocols and procedures used by the police to conduct the DUI checkpoint in your case. I will file a Motion to Suppress Evidence in cases where the police have violated a driver’s federal and state constitutional rights as a result of a DUI checkpoint arrest. In a suppression hearing held before trial, the prosecutor has the burden of establishing the DUI checkpoint’s constitutionality. The court may exclude evidence DUI checkpoint arrest if it is established that the police violated any of the DUI checkpoint guidelines.
Challenging the DUI Checkpoint Location
I will thoroughly investigate the legality of every aspect of the DUI checkpoint, including whether law enforcement had sufficient reports, statistics or other data to support its decision to approve a DUI checkpoint in a particular location at a certain time. Through the discovery process or through the service of a subpoena, I can obtain the information that law enforcement officials relied on during the decision-making process.
In some cases, the police will not be able to provide sufficient evidence of DUI arrests, accidents or other statistics at a specific location to justify the approval of the checkpoint. This will often lead the court to issue a ruling suppressing the evidence related to the arrest. A successful ruling for the defense at the conclusion of a Motion to Suppress Evidence hearing will generally result in a withdrawal or dismissal of the DUI charges against the accused.
Challenging the Administrative Approval of the DUI Checkpoint
I will also investigate whether the police followed the proper legal guidelines in notifying the public about the checkpoint and whether an appropriate supervisory or managerial police officer approved the checkpoint location and hours. I will also review the process used by the police to make the initial contact with motorists at the DUI checkpoint as well as the standards applied by the police to decide which motorists would be subject to sobriety testing, chemical testing and arrest.
Challenging the Breath Testing Procedures
I will verify the accuracy the accuracy and calibration of any breathalyzer devices used at the DUI checkpoint or after the DUI arrest. In Pennsylvania, breath test operators must be certified and must conduct breath testing according to specifically defined procedures. I will review the facts and circumstances of your case to determine if the police followed the proper breath testing protocols under the law.
Start with a Strong Defense
If you have been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, you must act quickly to protect your rights and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Call today for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.