DUI Checkpoints and Roadblocks – The Pennsylvania Standard

In Pennsylvania the random stop of a vehicle is unconstitutional but federal and Pennsylvania law do permit them in certain situations.

DUI Checkpoints And RoadblocksPennsylvania defines a roadblock as a well-marked stationary point supervised by police where officers make a brief “without suspicion” stop to check for a driver’s intoxication using a pre-determined objective standard. Pennsylvania’s definition of a constitutionally accepted roadblock further requires that it be advertised in advance and that it be located on a road or highway where drunk driving arrests have been made based in the past.

While on the surface roadblocks appear to 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 Supreme Courts have found these law enforcement devices permissible provided that the police satisfy certain requirements. In Pennsylvania, if the Commonwealth wants to prosecute someone following arrest for DUI made at a roadblock it bears the burden of establishing the constitutionality of that roadblock. The prosecution must establish that the roadblock was set up based on a systematic, non-discriminatory, and non-arbitrary manner.

Almost every case involving the constitutionality of a roadblock will cite the “Tarbert/Blouse” standard. This standard comes from two Pennsylvania Supreme Court Decisions which balance 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 cases 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. Based on these Supreme Court decisions a Pennsylvania Court will find a DUI roadblock or any checkpoint constitutional only if it meets the following requirements:

  1. The vehicle stop must be brief and it cannot include a search of the vehicle or its occupants
  2. Police must give advance notice (signs, notices through the media, ie: newspaper, advertisements)
  3. Police administration must make the decision to schedule the roadblock and police officers cannot simply schedule it on their own
  4. The location and time of the roadblock must be based on a history of drunk driving incidents and arrests in that location
  5. The “stop criteria” must be based on an objective standard created by police administration and not individual patrol officers

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. In Pennsylvania police can only stop a vehicle which attempts to avoid a roadblock if the police officer believes that the driver is purposely avoiding them and the officer 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 or abrupt change of direction.

Roadblocks create a variety of pre-trial issues for your attorney to argue in your case. If your attorney doesn’t attack these issues and focus argument on them, he/she simply doesn’t understand the law.

1 Comments
So what about chartered buses and the rights of passengers? On a way to a concert thanksgiving eve, a Grateful Dead Cover band, mind you, we were pulled over for the odor of Marijuana. Incapacitated and occupying the front seat LEFT of driver by myself I was the one who first made contact with officers boarding the bus. On this night I was not in possession of ANYTHING but lint and coins. I had not smoked ANY weed in months and i do not drink. I asked how the officers would determine.... Who?? They play the we just want one guy to admit card and sure enough ONE DOES but the games kept coming. I am not a lawyer but have successfully argued a 2013 possession charge to a summary offense saving me from a 6 month license suspension that was already in motion. I won that hearing by siting my summary offense and WON! I digress.... So I'm older wiser.... I tell the State Troopers that I have mobility issues, I refuse all search and seizures and that I will exit the bus when my wheelchair was safely outside the door. While sitting waiting I watched as the officers violated the rights of so many... I see a frightened girl resembling my daughter... The red and blues flash from the tear in her eye as she is shaking uncontrollably. I begin my march out of the bus. I said it loud but did not yell. "politely Decline all searches" I declined on behalf of everyone and asked for any who would like to be searched. No one replied.... This was very effective... A few moments later a trooper claimed he found a joint in, on or near my seat.... I laughed it off. Everyone had tossed by this point... So one guy admitted, they gathered some contraband and that was that... ALMOST! I was not allowed to leave without providing my name?? I would not, I could not! In another life I took the Pa act 120. I knew how police operated.... He asked for my name and I ask if If i have committed a crime or suspected of? I was already detained.. Anyway the cop responds NO to my answers and keeps pushing for the name as he now sees my weakness is my Irish anger and at bare minimum I'm going in for disorderly.. He pushes in on my personal space BAD and I am not the dude you should be doing that to... Then, I was just under 50. I am married 21 years with 2 kids, hose dog swimmin pool whole 9 yards.. puttin the Irish hoodlum away about the same time i took the pledge.. 20 years of fine behavior... A changed man.... Yet still myself. My caretaker comes and saves me from certain violation. He knows me well.. I explain the situation the cop explains and again I ask about the why??? I was the loudest and need to be checked for warrants.. WE were told... Nothing about an arrest.. I was never searched or seized. Seeing red and wanting to see the show I give my name. In Jan of 17 I get a summons to appear on possession charges... Thinking me smart Igo to my arraignment thinking mistake.. The trooper and Cop corner me in magistrate office, my son in tow... Out comes my record of 25 years ago... Hysterical yet scary. I was not in Lackawanna County any longer.... This is some backwoods court intimidation down in Monroe county. Signed an agreement to plea at a later date to paraphernalia and I headed for home. I paid 1500 for a local lawyer who REFUSES to hear me. I get it he wants the stop proved unconstitutional but I do not have any more money to give him. We cold have beat this at preliminary EASILY! Now, I sit awaiting the decision on the stop. I am not expecting the stop to go in my favor. Badly argued.... So after this is will be off to plea or further court. I CAN NOT EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE admit to anything I am NOT GUILTY OF. Look at my record, read the transcripts... "Your Honor I am guilty of these crimes and accept full responsibility. I am willing to accept any sentence that you see fit and apologize for taking time from the court system." (almost) That is how it has always been. Now? With such a nice life.... Without being guilty? No, No!!!! FInance wise? Trade, electrical work, the chance to represent a most unique individual with an amazing story to tell... Help
by William Sweeney September 7, 2017 at 02:27 PM
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