As a general rule, a law enforcement officer in New Jersey needs a valid reason to stop a driver. In other words, they need “reasonable suspicion” that the driver has committed a traffic infraction or a criminal offense. However, a DWI checkpoint is an exception.
DWI checkpoints have been upheld as constitutional by our nation’s highest court and are allowed in many states, including in New Jersey. A New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer can explain the most important things to know about DWI checkpoints and your rights.
Supreme Court: DWI Checkpoints are Constitutional
There have long been debates among legal scholars regarding the validity of DWI checkpoints. Many have argued that these checkpoints constitute an inherent violation of a driver’s Fourth Amendment rights. The issue went before the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1990 case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court determined that states have a valid interest in eradicating drunk driving and the imposition on drivers stopped at DWI checkpoints was “slight.” A minority of U.S. states still do not allow DWI checkpoints. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that officers can lawfully set up roadblocks in 38 of the 50 U.S. states, including in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
New Jersey DWI Roadblocks
Although the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of DWI roadblocks, not all roadblocks are legal. Legal checkpoints must be reasonably considered and carried out, meaning officers must meet specific criteria for the roadblock to be considered legal.
These factors include:
- There must be a relevant reason to create a sobriety checkpoint. There must also be a practical reason for the specific site that is selected for the checkpoint.
- There must be a neutral standard for what cars are stopped. This means random stops are not lawful and can be considered biased.
- The checkpoint must be clearly identified.
- The checkpoint must show good judgment, meaning the length of the checkpoint must be reasonable and the officers involved in the checkpoint must maintain a level of professionalism.
- The checkpoint must have identifiable markers to warn drivers of the upcoming checkpoint. This may include signs.
- The officers must have a procedure to ensure drivers are not held longer than necessary.
- The officers must have procedures to protect the safety of drivers and officers.
DWI Checkpoints in New Jersey: Know Your Rights
When you approach a DWI checkpoint in New Jersey, it is important to know what to expect. As a general rule, law enforcement officers can ask you to pull to the side of the road, request your information (license, insurance, and registration), and look for signs of intoxication. You have rights at a DWI checkpoint in New Jersey. Here are three things to know about your rights:
- You Can Evade a DWI Checkpoint (If a Lawful Maneuver is Possible): If you notice a DWI checkpoint ahead of you on the road, you have the right to turn it off. It is lawful to evade a DWI checkpoint — but only if a valid traffic maneuver is possible. If you make an illegal u-turn, you could be pulled over by police.
- You Do Not Have to Answer Officer Questions: At a DWI checkpoint itself, you should be prepared to roll down your window and hand over your license, registration, and proof of insurance if asked. You may also be asked other questions by police — such as where you are going or where you are coming from. You are not required to answer these questions, no matter how they are phrased.
- You Do Not Have to Consent to a Vehicle Search: A police officer may ask to search your vehicle at a DWI checkpoint. You are never required to consent to a search. It is your right to decline a search. That you refused to allow a search cannot be used as evidence of guilt in any criminal case.
Get Help From Our New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney Today
At the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, our New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, Matthew V. Portella, has the professional skills and legal knowledge that you can rely on to defend you. If you have any questions about DWI checkpoints, he can help.
Give us a call or send us a message for a strictly private consultation. From our offices in Haddonfield and Pleasantville, we provide DWI defense representation throughout New Jersey, including in Atlantic County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Gloucester County, Burlington County, and Salem County.