Although numerous states across the country prohibit the use of sobriety checkpoints as a deterrent to drunk driving, Massachusetts is not one of them. In fact, as the weather warms up, you are likely to see OUI roadblocks more frequently, at least weekly at some locations in the state.
Many civil rights advocates protest that OUI checkpoints are unconstitutional because they violate a driver’s protections against unlawful search and seizure. After all, police stop you without reasonable suspicion and question you without probable cause. However, courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the legality of these roadblocks. It is important to be informed or your rights when approaching a checkpoint so you will be aware if officers step over their boundaries.
What to expect at a roadblock
Law enforcement must publicize when drivers can expect an OUI roadblock in a specific jurisdiction. Police may withhold the exact location of the checkpoint, but they must choose an area that is typically a high risk for drunk drivers, and they must provide warning signs within a certain distance before the blockade to allow drivers to legally avoid the area.
When you approach a sobriety checkpoint, you can expect the following actions:
- Police will motion you through the area and pull cars over at specific intervals, such as every fourth vehicle.
- If police are more random in their selection of vehicles to detain, it may be the result of racial profiling or discrimination.
- If police motion for you to stop, you must stop, and officers will request that you roll down your window.
- The chit-chat in which officers will engage you is to give them an opportunity to observe whether your speech is slurred, your eyes red, your breath smells of alcohol or there is anything incriminating in your vehicle.
- Answer politely, but do not admit to anything, even if you had one beer.
- It is your right to refuse field sobriety tests and a search of your vehicle.
- Officers may not detain you longer than the average traffic light unless they are placing you under arrest.
Police claim the purpose of OUI checkpoints is not to make arrests, but to make people reconsider getting into the cars after drinking. However, if you are arrested at a roadblock, you do not have to accept a guilty plea before an experienced defense attorney examines your case to ensure officers did not violate your rights.