Law enforcement seems to set up DUI and OUI checkpoints here in Worcester every two to three weeks to catch drivers over the legal limit for drugs or alcohol. However, with the recent dismissal of a case in Tennessee because there was no public notice of the roadblock, it is a good idea to examine the laws here in Massachusetts.

Law enforcement is entitled to pull over drivers who drive erratically. As of now, stopping a vehicle at a checkpoint is considered a warrant-less seizure and the driver is protected under the laws of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.

The guidelines for roadblocks or checkpoints

The following guidelines must be observed for the selection process to hold up in court. Based on the landmark McGeoghgan from 1983 and Trumble from 1985, these guidelines are:

  • The public must be given advance warning of the checkpoint
  • The location of the checkpoint is a known trouble spot for driving under the influence
  • The selection of vehicles stopped cannot be arbitrary
  • There must be a predetermined plan for law enforcement that avoids random selection of drivers

The stop

An officer will explain what is happening during initial contact with the driver. At this point they are trying to determine if there are signs (bloodshot eyes, smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, etc.) that the driver may be intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, which, as we discussed in the past, is where actor Vince Vaughan ran into trouble. If the officer suspects this is the case, they will conduct a second screening.

The burden of proof is on law enforcement

It is important to remember that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty. Law enforcement must prove that they followed the above guidelines are did not violate drivers’ rights in any way. Criminal defense attorneys understand the process and can be a tremendous asset in protecting drivers against OUI and DUI charges particularly in regards to law enforcement’s selection process and analysis at the roadblock.