The Fourth Amendment protects persons against unreasonable searches and seizures except upon probable cause. A traffic stop by a police officer is recognized by the law as a seizure. Therefore, the police officer making the traffic stop (seizure) must be able to articulate probable cause, which is articulated facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude a violation of the law has or is occurring. So how does a Sobriety Checkpoint comply with the mandates of the Fourth Amendment? After all, when most drivers are stopped at a Checkpoint there is no evidence known to the police officer that a crime is or has been committed.
The permissibility of vehicle stops made on less than the proscribed legal standards are judged in each case by balancing the effect of the intrusion on the individuals Fourth Amendment liberties against the promotion of a legitimate government interest. The State has a very obvious legitimate interest in eradicating drunk driving and protecting its citizens. The considerations of constitutionality requires a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity the of the interference with individual liberty.
The United States Supreme Court has found Sobriety Checkpoints to be constitutional as long as they are conducted within strict guidelines. The seizure must be carried out pursuant to a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of the individual officers. The key is the elimination of the unfettered discretion of the officer conducting the stop. In other words, the officer cannot simply stand at the checkpoint and personally decide which vehicles to stop and which to allow to pass through without detention. This is by no means the only factor considered, but it is the checkpoint issue that sees the most litigation on the Sobriety Checkpoint DWI arrests.
The Arkansas State Police has a long history of violating the Supreme Court guidelines for Sobriety Checkpoints. Troop H (Fort Smith region) often sets up Checkpoints without any Checkpoint Plan to elimate officer discretion or often simply ignores their own plan. A plan embodies the location of the checkpoint, lists the participating officers and supervisor, set the exact times for the operation of the checkpoint, states how the officer are to stop the vehicles passing through the checkpoint (how to elect which vehicles get stopped and which are not stopped), and requires the officers to comply with statutes and department policy. In my experience as both a criminal defense attorney and as a retired police officer I have been witness to numerous violations of these rules by the officers of Troop H. Officers operating without any Plan, officers electing to stop vehicles arbitrarily, officers operating far outside the starting or ending times of the checkpoint, ……. All of these violations are subject to attack. If proven, the seizure is deemed unreasonable and thereby unconstitutional. The remedy for an unconstitutional seizure is the suppression of all the evidence collected during the seizure. This means the police cannot introduce any observations, tangible evidence, or BAC test results. Without these items of evidence they cannot win a DWI case.
This violation of your rights is extremely common in the Fort Smith region. If you’ve had the misfortune of being arrested for DWI, please contact me at The Law Firm of Byars & Hall (479-494-1800) and let me help you.