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Sobriety Checkpoints

One of the most disturbing public policy elements in the war against drunk driving has become the legality of sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints are used to stop and question motorists in order to detect whether a driver is impaired due to the use of alcohol and/or drugs. The controversy and significance behind these checkpoints is the fact that they are used to detain and question motorists for drunk driving despite the absence of probable cause.

Most citizens are well aware of the fourth amendment to the US Constitution’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure. Correspondingly, such prohibitions against government intervention into our respective private affairs has entailed a requirement for there to exist probable cause to believe that a violation of law has been committed prior to one being investigated through police detention.

However, many states, including Indiana have carved out an exception to normal police investigative practice when it comes to the apprehension of potential drunk drivers. Through the prescribed use of sobriety checkpoints, Indiana as well as many other states have permitted the use of such tactics so long as these roadblocks are set up in a way that is in accordance with Indiana case law.

In 2002, the Indiana Supreme Court put forth an opinion that has been the most instructive to date in regard to the lawful use of police checkpoints. The opinion found within State of Indiana v. Gerschoffer, suggests the outline for the time, place and manner within which such roadblocks can be lawfully conducted.

In a nutshell, the opinion states that if there is a legitimate public safety rationale for a roadblock’s existence, a sobriety checkpoint may lawfully commence if conducted in an objective non discretionary fashion. This public safety element is present when law enforcement can indicate with factual evidence that the location where a checkpoint is erected is one frequented with drunk driving activity.

Such a checkpoint must be conducted in a way that eliminates officer discretion in the questioning of vehicles to the greatest extent possible. This is so in circumstances where in accord with written police procedure a uniform standard of conducting such a roadblock can be verified to withstand subsequent legal scrutiny.

Different counties within Indiana have seen fit over the years to implement road block arrests in various degrees. While some have rarely if ever implemented such checkpoints, other counties are more notorious in their zeal to erect these traffic impediments in search of drunk drivers.

No matter whether primarily operating upon rural public roads or more urban thoroughfares, no driver is immune to the prospect of being stopped by such a roadblock at some point in their lives.

Research does in fact suggest that more heavily trafficked urban thoroughfares are far more likely to be utilized for the use of such roadblocks in the arrest of potential drunk drivers. Further, weekends and holidays are far more likely to be opportune times for the Indiana state police in conjunction with local authorities to resort to these roadblock measures.

While within different years research suggests that overall use of roadblocks in Indiana have risen and fallen at different times, it is my personal viewpoint that economic considerations play a large role in how and when sobriety checkpoints are implemented.

In times of economic slowdowns, law enforcement budgets whether within statewide or local county police agencies do not afford opportunities to haphazardly erect such roadblocks and the manpower necessary to legally implement them with the limited resources available to them.

Nonetheless, although at the present time my personal experience suggests a decline in the use of such sobriety checkpoints overall, certain counties continue to use them unabated.

As a general matter, although the internet and youtube is replete with suggestions as to how to challenge roadblock officers with constitutional retorts as a means to rebuff questioning, I would contend that such suggestions are fraught with potential legal peril if acted upon in the state of Indiana without the proper guidance of legal of counsel.

Each factual and legal circumstance that results in a dui arrest as a result of a sobriety checkpoint may be properly challenged irrespective of their constitutionality. Please feel free to call me at anytime to discuss how the specific facts within your particular case may run counter to proper police procedure as to the time, place and manner in which a roadblock in question has been conducted.

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