The Top 5 Questions about DUI Checkpoints in Pennsylvania

DUI CheckpointsThe holiday season is about to kick off next week with my favorite holiday—Thanksgiving! With this wonderful season comes office parties and other events involving alcohol. Police and law enforcement in Pennsylvania will be on the look out for drunk drivers and will more than likely set up a checkpoint at or near where you live or near the party you’re attending. Here are top 5 questions that our criminal defense law firm receives from clients in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties.

 

  1. Are DUI checkpoints legal in Pennsylvania?

YES. 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.

Pennsylvania defines a roadblock as 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.

 

  1. Who is responsible for establishing 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.

 

  1. What specific constitutional requirements must a DUI checkpoint satisfy?

A Pennsylvania Court will find a DUI checkpoint constitutional if it meets the following 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

 

  1. Is there anything illegal about intentionally trying to avoid a DUI checkpoint?

No. 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 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 change of direction, he can stop it.

 

For more information on DUI in Pennsylvania, read the second edition of my book—5 Ways to Fight & Win your Pennsylvania DUI case. I’m almost finished the second edition of this book and look for this expanded version later this month!