Often times, law enforcement may use an investigative tool called a roadblock to investigate individuals who may be under the influence of alcohol and in violation of VTL §1192. These are also commonly referred to sobriety checkpoints.
Both the N.Y.S and U.S. Constitution, however, require that these roadblocks/sobriety checkpoints conducted by law enforcement comply with strict regulations. We have successfully challenged the use of roadblocks by law enforcement.
Set forth below is a summary of the legal standards that are applied by the Courts when reviewing a defense lawyer’s challenge to the constitutionality of a roadblock or sobriety checkpoint. If you have questions about a roadblock, please consider contacting our firm for additional information or to schedule an interview if you are a prospective client.
Summary of Legal Principles
In Michigan State Police v. Sitz, 496 US 444, 110 SCt 2481, 110 LEd2d 412 (1990), the Supreme Court held that DWI checkpoint stops, although seizures within the scope of the Fourth Amendment, may be “reasonable” and not violate the Fourth Amendment. Similarly, the New York Court of Appeals in People v. Scott, 63 NY2d 518, 473 NE2d 1, 483 NYS2d 649 (1984) ruled that the use of DWI roadblocks by law enforcement may be constitutionally permissible.
In determining whether the DWI roadblock is “reasonable” and not in violation of the Fourth Amendment, several crucial elements must be satisfied by law enforcement.
These elements are as follows:
a. The DWI checkpoint was conducted pursuant to explicit regulations which circumscribed the discretion of the officers in terms of site selection for the location of the roadblock. b. The regulations required that vehicles be stopped according to wholly uniform and neutral criteria, such as the stopping of every car or every fourth car. c. The initial observation and questioning were brief and limited to inquiries regarding the driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance and proof of inspection; see Sitz at pp. 453; Scott at pp. 526-27.
DWI roadblocks conducted pursuant to such guidelines ensure that totally objective and neutral criteria are utilized by the officer in determining who gets stopped and that the intrusion on the motorist remains minimal. A hearing conducted by a Judge can determine the lawfulness of this type of law enforcement technique.