Roadblocks or Sobriety Checkpoints

Massachusetts State Police and local police departments routinely utilize roadblocks or sobriety checkpoint as a method to enforce the Massachusetts Drunk Driving Laws.

As it concerns DUI / OUI Roadblocks or Sobriety Checkpoints, Massachusetts law permits the police to stop randomly stop vehicles without evidence of impaired operation, erratic driving or other civil motor vehicle offenses.  The selection process employed by police, however, must not be arbitrary and the procedure must be conducted to a plan devised by law enforcement.

By way of background, a stop of a car at a police roadblock, no matter how brief, is considered to be a warrantless seizure that implicates the constitutional protections of the United States Constitution and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.  The United States Supreme Court has upheld police using OUI / DUI Roadblocks or Sobriety Checkpoints if they are reasonable and balance the public interest in reducing alcohol related accidents against a person's constitutional rights.

The reason police must operated a DUI / OUI checkpoint according to a previously-devised plan is because it would be illegal to target which vehicles to stop.  Even fixed checkpoints where police stop cars according to no set plan or pattern are unconstitutional and illegal.  In other words, if the police or law enforcement have any discretion in which vehicles are stopped, the constitutionality of the sobriety checkpoint will not upheld.

The landmark cases concerning OUI / DUI Roadblocks or Sobriety Checkpoints in Massachusetts is Commonwealth v. McGeoghgan, 389 Mass. 137 (1983) and Commonwealth v. Trumble, 396 Mass. 81 (1985).  In those cases, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that, in order for a OUI / DUI roadblock or sobriety checkpoint to be constitutional, four things must be satisfied:
  • the selection of cars stopped must not be arbitrary
  • assurance must be given that the procedure utilized by the police is conducted pursuant to a plan devised by law enforcement with standard, neutral guidelines that clearly forbid the arbitrary selection of vehicles to be stopped
  • the site selected for the DUI / OUI checkpoint must be a "problem area", in other words, where accidents or drunk driving arrested have previously occurred; and
  • the public must be given advance notice.
At the initial stop at a drunk driving roadblock or sobriety checkpoint, the police or screening officer will speak to the operator and explain what is occurring.  At this stage, the police officer is looking for any signs that might suggest the operator is operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as blood shot eyes, the smell of alcohol, or any other indicia of drunk driving.

Once a car has been selected at the DUI / OUI roadblock or sobriety checkpoint and only if the police officer has reasonable suspicion, "based upon articulable facts" that the driver may be operating under the influence, only then may he lawfully direct that driver to submit to a secondary screening.  Courts have generally upheld further screening after the initial stop if the screening officer observed "any articulable sign of possible intoxication."

Cases involving a drunk driving roadblock or sobriety checkpoint should always be challenged because Massachusetts criminal law places the burden on the prosecutor to prove that the roadblock seizure was conducted in accordance with the law and guidelines and was therefore constitutional.  If the prosecutor fails to meet that burden, i.e., that the checkpoint was reasonable and constitutionally conducted, then your case may ultimately be dismissed.

A successful challenge of your drunk driving arrest after having been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint will rise and fall on very detailed issues and legal arguments concerning the constitutionality of the road block.  Because a successful challenge can rise and fall on the persuasiveness of the legal argument, it is critical that the attorney be experienced, knowledgable and able to convince the judge of his position.

Boston Drunk Driving Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis has successfully represented persons prosecuted for Massachusetts Drunk Driving Charges.  He is available 24/7 for consultation and can be reached directly at 617-325-9500.