Daniel Hynes

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Sobriety checkpoint & roadblock defenses

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Now that summer is upon us, police will be out in force doing sobriety checkpoints & roadblocks.

New Hampshire DWI Defenses: Sobriety Checkpoints and Drunk Driving Roadblocks

When a sobriety checkpoint is conducted, police officers establish temporary roadblocks to halt all motorists, or a percentage of these motorists, to search for drivers whose ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or “any substance whether available without a prescription or controlled.” If you or someone you know has been arrested for driving while intoxicated arising from a sobriety checkpoint, then you more than likely have a number of questions to ask.

Can police officers pull me over at a sobriety checkpoint even if my driving was perfect and I was not observed doing anything wrong like weaving?

In most scenarios, law enforcement officials cannot detain or stop a motorist without the presence of reasonable suspicion, based upon articulable, specific facts, that the individual has committed a crime or traffic violation, like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Similar decisions of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have created a limited exception to this legal standard, allowing for traffic stops of suspicion-less motorists pursuant to a sobriety checkpoint or DWI roadblock.

Per State v. Hunt, 155 N.H. 465 (2007); State v. Koppell, 127 N.H. 286 (1985) (invalidating an unconstitutional checkpoints), and Opinion of the Justices, 128 N.H. 14 (1986), if law enforcement officials closely follow all legal requirements for establishing and administering sobriety checkpoints, then a motorist can legally be stopped even if a police officer did not specifically witness erratic operation or a traffic violation.

What are the Constitutional or legal requirements for drunk driving roadblocks to be set up?

Under New Hampshire’s prior court decisions, police agencies are required to 1) offer advance notice of checkpoints to the general public (usually conducted through press releases), 2) receive judicial permission for the check point to be established, and 3) conduct the roadblock according to legal protocols set forth by the original court order authorizing the roadblock.

If I was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, do I have to go through with field sobriety tests or a Breathalyzer test?

Unless a motorist has been formally arrested, there are no legal consequences associated with refusing to undergo a Breathalyzer test or field sobriety tests. However, an overwhelming percentage of motorists opt to submit to field sobriety tests, such as the one legged stand test, which requires a person to stand on one leg for a minimum of 30 seconds without the use of their arms or other devices as balance aids.

Can police officers use sobriety checkpoints to systematically search for illegal drugs?

Police officers are legally barred from using sobriety checkpoints for more general criminal investigations, such as possessing illegal drugs. In the 2000 case of Indianapolis v. Edmond 531 U.S. 32, it was deemed that a checkpoint established for the purpose of seeking out illegal drugs constituted standard crime control measures and, therefore, violated an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. Government officials cannot used checkpoints for the purpose of finding stolen guns or illegal drugs – only for the purpose of detecting impaired motorists. This is why sobriety checkpoints are referred to as “the DWI Exception to the Constitution”.

If I was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in New Hampshire, does this mean that I’m going to be convicted for a DWI?

Not necessarily; however, but it is imperative for you to retain the services of a New Hampshire DWI attorney who has the skills, experience, and qualifications to defend your case and ensure that your legal rights are protected. DWI lawyers often find it easier to defend clients accused of DWIs who were ensnared at sobriety checkpoints. The majority of such cases do not involve officers’ observations of any traffic violations. Consequently, from the standpoint of the prosecution, these cases are much weaker than the “average” DWI case in New Hampshire. Even if the federal and New Hampshire state constitutions’ search and seizure clauses do not protect motorists in these situations, there remains another key constitutional element – the legal right to not be convicted of a crime unless the government has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt.

If I notice a checkpoint ahead and have consumed a few drinks, should I try to turn around?

Whether or not police officers can legally detain a motorist for attempting to evade a sobriety checkpoint is one interesting issues that often arises. The New Hampshire Supreme Court has not yet ruled on a case involving this issue, but a handful of other state courts have determined that that police officers violate the constitutional rights of a motorist by detaining their vehicle on the sole basis that he or she attempted to evade a roadblock, absent any other indicators of illegal activity, such as erratic operation of a motor vehicle.

These are just a sample of a few of the most common questions we answer for new clients regarding sobriety checkpoints and roadblocks in the state of New Hampshire. If you have other questions or have been arrested on a DWI charge in New Hampshire, then we strongly encourage you to contact one of our experienced NH DWI lawyers today for a free consultation regarding your case.

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