The holiday season is about to kick off next week with Halloween! After trick or treating, haunted hay rides and a lot of leftover candy, many of us will soon receive invitations to Christmas and office Holiday parties with plenty of alcohol and sometimes even illegal drugs! Police and law enforcement in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties of Delaware, Bucks, Montgomery and Chester will be on the look out for drunk drivers and will set up a checkpoint at or near where you live or near the party you’re attending.
Here are the top 4 issues that you need to understand about DUI checkpoints
1. DUI checkpoints are legal in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, the random stop of a car or other motor vehicle is unconstitutional but federal and Pennsylvania law does permit them in certain situations.
In Pennsylvania a roadblock is a well-marked stationary point supervised by police where officers make a brief “without suspicion” or stop to determine a driver’s possible intoxication using a pre-determined objective standard.
While it may appear that checkpoints and roadblocks violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court have found this police tactic permissible as long as the police satisfy certain requirements.
2. The Commonwealth must establish the constitutionality of a checkpoint or a roadblock
The Commonwealth through the assistant district attorney (the prosecutor) bears the burden of establishing the constitutionality of that roadblock. Almost every case involving the constitutionality of a roadblock will cite the “Tarbert/Blouse” standard.
This standard comes from two Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases which balanced an individual’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution against Pennsylvania’s compelling interest of public safety (protecting people from drunk drivers.)
The Court in both of these decision found that while roadblocks intruded upon a person’s constitutional rights, it is an acceptable level of intrusion given the state’s interest in protecting the public.
4. A Pennsylvania Criminal Court will find a DUI checkpoint constitutional if it meets the following constitutional requirements:
- The car stop must be brief and it can’t include a search of the vehicle or its occupants
- Police must give advance notice (signs, notices through the media, ie: newspaper, advertisements)
- Police administration must make the decision to schedule the roadblock and police officers can’t simply schedule it on their own
- The location and time of the roadblock must be based on a history of drunk driving incidents and arrests in that location
- The “stop criteria” must be based on an objective standard created by police administration and not individual patrol officers
5. You don’t have to go through a checkpoint and can actually intentionally avoid it
A driver is legally permitted to avoid a roadblock and police can’t stop a car simply based on the belief that a driver is avoiding them. If the police officer, however, believes that the driver is purposely avoiding them and he or she has a reasonable suspicion that the motorist is either in violation of Pennsylvania’s vehicle code or the motorist is committing a crime due to the car’s sudden change of direction, he can stop it.