Suffolk County Police arrested seven drivers for driving while intoxicated (DWI) at a sobriety checkpoint in Patchogue in a 3-hour window beginning at 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2022. A week later, another eight people were arrested at a checkpoint in Huntington Station.
Law enforcement agencies on Long Island regularly use sobriety checkpoints – sometimes called DWI checkpoints – to nab drivers seemingly operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The roadblocks often happen around weekend nights, holidays, and sporting events.
While the checkpoint might seem like entrapment, such roadblocks are legal in New York. Police are required to follow certain protocols and drivers also have rights. If the police do not follow guidelines or the rights of a motorist are violated, any arrest would likely be tossed out.
DWI Checkpoint Protocols
When the police set up a DWI checkpoint, they typically have a short conversation with each motorist they stop. Based on the driver’s behavior and answers to questions, the officer decides whether to administer a sobriety test.
For a checkpoint to be legal and not violate the driver’s Constitutional rights, certain rules must be followed that have been established in related court rulings. Requirements include the law agency establishing written guidelines for checkpoint operation. Checkpoints should be a part of an overall policing plan and not left to the whims of officers working the roadblock.
Checkpoint rules law enforcement should follow include the following:
- Proper emergency lighting, traffic cones, and warning signs must be used to alert oncoming drivers.
- Motorists are pulled over based on a predetermined random formula.
- A supervisor must always be present.
- Motorists cannot be held for an unreasonable amount of time.
In New York, DWI checkpoints also must serve the purpose of raising awareness of and discouraging driving while impaired. Checkpoints used for general crime control meant to “catch” any potential crime (unlicensed firearm, suspended license, etc.) are considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Motorists’ Rights at DWI Checkpoints
Drivers are typically nervous when they approach a sobriety checkpoint, even when sober. Motorists can make a turn to avoid a checkpoint ahead, as long as they do not break traffic laws. Keep in mind that police can pull over a car that makes a suspicious turn to circumvent them. Failing to properly slow down on the checkpoint approach is another red flag to law enforcement.
The first moments at the checkpoint are important. Turn on the vehicle’s interior light to improve visibility. Keep your hands on the wheel. You should be polite and provide your registration and license when requested. Be careful about what you say to the police. Saying you had one beer earlier in the day is enough suspicion for the officer to further investigate DWI.
When you enter the checkpoint, you retain certain rights:
- You do not have to answer law enforcement questions but decline courteously.
- If you are asked to step out of your vehicle, do so calmly. Refusing can be considered resisting arrest.
- Politely decline the officer’s request to search your vehicle.
- You have the right to remain silent and ask to speak to your attorney.
- You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer, but there are consequences. You will likely pay a $500 fine and lose your driver’s license for 1 year.
Legal Defense for DWI Checkpoint Arrests
Sobriety checkpoints promote road safety and deter drunk driving. If these roadblocks are improperly conducted, any arrests can be argued to be invalid. At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, we closely examine every detail of our client’s case, including the behavior of law enforcement. We look for procedural and constitutional violations.
If you need an aggressive defense strategy after being detained at a sobriety checkpoint, we can help. Schedule a consultation with us by contacting us online or calling (516) 218-5131.