It's hard to believe that it's that time of year – winter has arrived, and it is here to stay. With the holidays right around the corner, that can only mean one thing: checkpoint season is also upon us. Whether you are driving home after having a few drinks at the office Christmas party or an ugly sweater extravaganza, you are likely to run in to at least one roadblock during the holiday season.
If the 4 th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, how can police officers stop vehicles when they have done nothing wrong? On any other occasion an officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle, but that is not the case with checkpoints. According to the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, checkpoints are lawful but only if they are conducted in a fair and effective manner. They must be operated in a systematic procedure; for example, stopping every other, every third, every sixth vehicle, etc., so that everyone has an equal opportunity of being stopped.
In order to make any changes to the original plan, an officer must first have probable cause to do so. Normally, they must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed to stop a car. They must demonstrate they have "independent and articulable" facts to stop your vehicle. They are trained to look for signs of impaired driving such as swerving, driving above or below the speed limit, and making a U-turn to avoid a checkpoint. Checkpoints may seem like an infringement on our protected privacy, but the U.S. Supreme Court held that checkpoints are permissible.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, it is during the holidays that people are most likely to drive impaired. This increases the likelihood that checkpoints will be set up in a location near downtown and bar areas, though they are not limited to these areas. They can be set up anywhere that has a high number of DWI arrests or alcohol-related incidents. In most cases, roadblocks occur between the hours of 10pm-2am on weekends and around holidays.
In their ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court also recommended that the date and location for any upcoming checkpoint be made available to the public. However, this is not a requirement. Courts feel that announcing the details of an upcoming checkpoint makes drivers less likely to drink and drive. Nevertheless, checkpoint times and locations are usually shared beforehand.
To be alerted of the most recent checkpoints throughout Missouri, follow me on Twitter at @BogdanSusan and I will keep you updated on everything you need to know about roadblocks in your area. If you need an experienced Columbia attorney for a case regarding a DUI or DWI, we can help you! For more information, call our office at (573) 499-1700 for a free consultation.