An arrest for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Driving While Impaired by Alcohol in Howard County almost always begins with a traffic stop.  Both the Constitution of the United States and the Maryland Constitution require a police officer to have reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime (which can include a violation of the traffic code) has taken place.  However, there is an exception to this general rule that allows the police to set up checkpoints to detect impaired or under the influence driving even when an officer does not observe a traffic violation to justify the stop.  Some people refer to this as the “DUI exception to the Constitution”.

The Federal case that allows DUI checkpoints is Michigan State Dept of Police v. Sitz (496 US 444).  The Supreme Court considered three factors in allowing DUI checkpoints: the state’s interests in enforcing laws prohibiting drunk driving, the checkpoints furtherance of these interests, and the level of intrusion to an individuals rights when they are stopped at a DUI checkpoint.  The Supreme Court found that Michigan had a high interest in enforcing their DUI laws, that the DUI checkpoint effectively furthered the state interest, and that the DUI checkpoint in question did not unduly intrude on the rights of the individuals who were stopped.  While Sitz allows DUI checkpoints in principle, every individual checkpoint must still demonstrate that it balances these factors.

The Maryland case that examines DUI checkpoints is Little v. State (300 Md. 485).  Little held that DUI checkpoints were legal in Maryland under a similar analysis as the Supreme Court applied in Sitz.  The court in Little laid out a more specific set of factors that it considered in allowing the DUI checkpoints.  In regards to the State’s interest, the Court held:

Clearly the State has a compelling interest in controlling drunk driving. Indeed, as the record discloses, about sixty percent of the drivers killed in automobile accidents have elevated levels of alcohol in their blood; nationally, fifty-five percent of all traffic fatalities are alcohol related. The magnitude of the problem created by intoxicated motorists cannot be exaggerated.

In regards to the effectiveness of the checkpoint in furthering the State’s interest, the Court held:

The record before us demonstrates that for the limited period of its operation, the sobriety checkpoint program has been a moderately effective technique for detecting and deterring the drunk driver…Of greater significance is the evidence in the record indicating that the pilot program had a substantial impact on the drunk driving problem. Police attending the checkpoints found that many drunk individuals asked a sober spouse or companion to drive instead. Taxi companies reported a substantial increase in business from intoxicated persons who had been deterred from driving.  Furthermore, some groups chartered buses or other vehicles to transport revelers. The prospect of being stopped at a roadblock thus convinced some intoxicated individuals to find alternate means of transportation.

Finally, in regards to the level of intrusion on the rights of the individuals stopped at the DUI checkpoint, the Court held:

Balanced against the State’s compelling interest in detecting and deterring drunk driving, the intrusion on individual liberties caused by the checkpoints is minimal. The checkpoints are operated under limitations imposed by clear, carefully crafted regulations approved by high level administrators. The regulations severely restrict the discretion of the officers in the field. All vehicles are stopped; there is virtually no risk that motorists will be singled out arbitrarily. The procedures to be followed when communicating with each driver are set forth in detail in the regulations; thus, the risk of police harassment is greatly reduced. The amount of fright and annoyance caused to motorists who pass through the checkpoints is minimal. Adequate advance warning of the checkpoint is given; motorists who do not wish to stop may make a U-turn and follow a different route. Moreover, a driver who stops at the checkpoint but refuses to roll down the car window is allowed to proceed. The stops themselves last less than a half a minute. Officers do not interrogate motorists or search their vehicles. Each checkpoint is well illuminated and staffed by a sufficient number of uniformed officers to show that it is a legitimate exercise of police authority. Ample provision is made for the safety and convenience of the public; operation of the checkpoints is suspended if traffic becomes congested. The sobriety checkpoints are operated pursuant to a comprehensive set of detailed regulations; they function in a manner that minimizes the possibility of fright and inconvenience to the public.

In applying Little, the Court will analyze these same factors in every checkpoint case that is brought before it.  This means that the State will need to demonstrate that there is a compelling State interest in controlling drunk driving, that the checkpoint is effective in furthering the State’s interest, and that the rules of each particular checkpoint only create a minimal intrusion on the liberties of the individuals stopped at the checkpoint.

The State needs to demonstrate the the particular DUI checkpoint met all of the Constitutional requirements set out in Sitz and Little for the checkpoint to be considered valid.  If the State is not able to demonstrate that the checkpoint was constitutional than the stop of the individual cited for DUI as a result of the checkpoint will be suppressed and the case against the suspected DUI or DWI driver will be dismissed.

Having a qualified and experienced Howard County DUI lawyer on your side when contesting a stop based on a DUI checkpoint can be the difference between an acquittal and a conviction.  An experienced and skilled attorney can challenge the constitutionality of the checkpoint that stopped an individual driver and have the stop suppressed, resulting in a dismissal of the charges.  The attorney’s at Azari Law have a great deal of experience litigation DUI checkpoints in Howard County and can help you get the best possible outcome in your particular case.

Contact us today to schedule your free, no obligation consultation with one of your experienced and skilled attorneys.