Constitutionality of DUI Road Blocks

Many people simply accept the inconvenience and intrusion of DUI checkpoints that suddenly pop out in busy thru-traffic areas on Friday or Saturday nights, or after festive holiday celebrations. For many drivers, they've come to be expected on certain nights of the year.

However, the law does not allow DUI road blocks to be set up solely at the discretion of law enforcement. There are specific mandates which must be met in setting up Maryland DUI road blocks for sobriety checkpoints, in order for the evidence obtained through them to be admissible. If those mandates are compromised in any way, then any evidence acquired via the Maryland DUI road block will be thrown out.

Constitutionally, random stops perpetuated upon drivers by law enforcement without cause or suspicion are illegal. However, in most states, DUI checkpoints are allowed, due to Federal allowances for drunk driving and public safety. There are only a handful of States which uphold the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and therefore found DUI road blocks to be illegal. Unfortunately, the state of Maryland is not one of them. Maryland’s requirements for a legal road block are as follows:

Requirements for a Proper DUI Checkpoint in Maryland:

  1. Systematic, non-discriminatory, non-arbitrary
  2. intended to ensure public safety
  3. publicized ahead of time to lower fear of driver
  4. drivers must be given alternative to turn around if they don’t wish to be stopped
  5. the road block must be approved by high ranking police official

If evidence from Maryland DUI road blocks and/or checkpoints are found to fall short of the legal requirements, the evidence obtained therein can be thrown out of Court thereby gutting the State’s case.

The above noted checkpoint requirements are vague enough that the proper defense of a DUI case requires an experienced Maryland DUI lawyer to tackle the complex Constitutional issues involved.

The first requirement listed above is that road blocks must be "systematic." But what does that mean, and what determines if a road block is systematic?

In this context, "systematic" refers to a defined, pre-determined, routine pattern and sequence of actions. Among other things not permitted, law enforcement cannot suddenly decide to run a DUI checkpoint on a major highway on a whim, nor conduct it without an identifiable order. This leaves less room for law enforcement to use subjective means and actions to conduct an unlawful stop, rather than a pre-determined course of actions.

Other factors include "non-discriminatory" and "non-arbitrary". These terms refer to justifiable reason to conduct a DUI checkpoint in the first place, such as prior DUI arrests in the same area around the same general time. Non-discriminatory also dictates how law enforcement stops and questions drivers. Again, law enforcement officers should not be stopping and questioning drivers at their own discretion. Instead, it must be based upon a random sequence, such as every third driver or all drivers as is normally the case. It is wise to pay attention to which drivers ahead of you are stopped and questioned, and which drivers are waved through the road block.

To determine whether or not a Maryland road block is legal, it is best to consult an experienced DUI lawyer. It is unwise to simply decide for yourself whether or not you were stopped, questioned or tested legally. A good lawyer will examine the facts surrounding a checkpoint and/or arrest, assess your case and help to defend and protect your rights.

In addition to the above noted requirements for a stop, an experienced Maryland DUI lawyer should assess such factors as whether or not there were signs that gave required warning of the stop and offered the driver the ability to legally turn away and whether there was reasonable suspicion to get the driver out of the car for field sobriety tests or roadside gymnastics.

Remember, if arrested for DUI, it is advised that the driver exercise his constitutional right not engage or speak to the arresting officer, or any officer, without the guidance of capable counsel.

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