DUI Checkpoint Season is Upon Us

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The holiday season is always filled with food, family and fun—and alcohol, which can result in serious legal issues if you make the decision to drink and drive and you just happen to stumble upon a DUI checkpoint. To some, DUI roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints are viewed as a trap by law enforcement in order to detect and apprehend DUI offenders who wouldn’t necessarily be stopped under normal circumstances. Essentially, that’s exactly what it is! Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court have ruled that DUI checkpoints are lawful.

However, when it comes to roadblocks, law enforcement officials don’t have any-time-any-place authority to conduct DUI checkpoints. They must follow specific guidelines when setting up DUI checkpoints and stopping drivers to determine whether or not they are under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

Requirement for Lawful DUI Checkpoints

In Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001), the Georgia Court of Appeals held that all of the requirements for DUI checkpoints that were established in previous case law must continue to be followed in order for such checkpoints to be constitutional. Law enforcement must show:

  • That the decision to implement a roadside checkpoint as well as the procedures to carry it out were made by supervisory personnel;
  • That the roadside checkpoint serves a legitimate purpose;
  • That all vehicles passing through the checkpoint are stopped as opposed to drivers being randomly stopped;
  • That any delay to drivers is minimal;
  • That the roadblock is adequately marked.

Case Law & Roadblocks Requirements

The Decision to Implement…

The decision to implement a roadblock must be made by a law enforcement official acting in a supervisory role with the authority to implement checkpoints. Thomas v. State, 277 Ga. App. 88 (2005). The decision as to when and where the checkpoint will be implemented cannot be left to the discretion of an officer working in the field.

Legitimate Purpose, No Random Stops & Roadblock Must Be Well Identified…

The U.S. Supreme Court held in City of Indianapolis v Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000) that the purpose of a roadblock must be legitimate. A checkpoint cannot be set up for the purpose of general criminal wrongdoing. However, the state of Georgia also held in Strickland v. State, 270 Ga. App. 187 (2004), that checkpoints can be established for the purpose of searching for witnesses connected to a crime previously committed in the area. Further, all vehicles must be stopped as opposed to random vehicle stops. LaFontaine v. State, 269 Ga. 251, 497 S.E.2d 367 (1988). The Court in LaFontaine also concluded that a checkpoint operation must be well identified to oncoming drivers. Typically, a roadblock must be clearly marked by patrol cars with flashing lights, officers in uniform and orange traffic cones.

Delay Must Be Minimal & Reasonable…

When law enforcement uses a DUI checkpoint to stop drivers in order to detect and arrest DUI offenders, the stop is subject to the scrutiny of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, a temporary detainment/seizure at a roadblock must be conducted in a reasonable manner. Connor v. State, 130 Ga. App. 74 (1983).

What Law Enforcement is Looking for When They Stop Your Car at a DUI Checkpoint

There are certain indicators that law enforcement is looking for when they stop your car at a DUI checkpoint, which suggests that a person is under the influence of alcohol. Such indicators are:

  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • The odor of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Decreased motor skills
  • The plain sight of alcohol, drugs, or drug paraphernalia

If at a DUI checkpoint any of the above indicators are observed by law enforcement then they may lawfully use field sobriety tests and chemical tests to determine your blood alcohol level.

DUI Checkpoint Defenses

There are legal defenses that can be raised in order to challenge the lawfulness of a DUI checkpoint. If any of the roadblock requirements set out in Baker (above) are missing then it can be argued that the checkpoint was not valid, which may result in the charge being reduced or the case being dismissed.

If You Were Arrested for a DUI at a DUI Checkpoint, Contact Bixon Law Today

If you have been charged with a DUI as a result of being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, we encourage you to contact Bixon Law today. Michael Bixon represents clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. He is committed to helping his clients through difficult situations and working to get them the best possible outcome. We invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation.

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