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  • Are DUI Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    Understanding the Penalties of a First-Time DUI/DWI in New MexicoDUI sobriety checkpoints are legal. The U.S. Supreme Court has found them legal because they feel that these checkpoints deter clear public safety hazards. However, a checkpoint does invade a person’s rights, including the right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure. After all, at a checkpoint, the officers do not have probable cause to check you for a DUI; instead, they are stopping all vehicles.

    Some states have implemented their own laws that go against the federal ruling, and these states consider checkpoints a violation of their constitution. In New Mexico, DUI sobriety checkpoints are legal, but they must be conducted following a list of pre-set guidelines. Any time a DUI checkpoint fails to follow these guidelines, the arrest and any evidence with that arrest may be invalid.

    The Rules and Procedures for a Legal Sobriety Checkpoint

    While sobriety checkpoints are legal in the state of New Mexico, these mobile checkpoints are conducted without any suspicion of someone being under the influence.

    To conduct one legally in the state, law enforcement must adhere to very strict rules and procedures, including:

    Using Checkpoints on a Random Basis and at Locations Temporarily

    Law enforcement cannot set up a permanent checkpoint in the state. Instead, they must select an area for a temporary roadblock to conduct their tests. And during these checkpoint stops, motorists are only detained as long as necessary to conduct a sobriety check.

    The purpose is to remove any under-the-influence motorists, but officers cannot detain everyone. Furthermore, they must ensure that the disruption of traffic is minimal, meaning they could not stop every single car, conduct a breathalyzer and field sobriety test, and back up the entire roadway.

    Officers Must Use a Preset Criteria when Stopping Vehicles

    Also, law enforcement must set rules for how they will stop vehicles. Sometimes, it will be every other vehicle, while others will stop every three vehicles. These rules must be predetermined before the checkpoint is established, and law enforcement cannot change the procedure mid-checkpoint.

    Law Enforcement Must Provide Public Notice

    New Mexico requires that law enforcement officials announce the checkpoint ahead of time. Therefore, most motorists will know there are checkpoints out. Typically, law enforcement sets up these checkpoints on major holidays, such as July 4th, New Year’s Eve, and Memorial Day. They may have random checkpoints established throughout the year, and they are commonly held on weekends when drunken driving peaks.

    Regardless of when they decide to host one, they still must let the public know. You can often find these announcements in the local news and online websites that track DUI checkpoints throughout the state.

    Officers Can Ask Drivers Questions

    While they might only conduct a field sobriety test for every other vehicle, they may still ask each driver passing through the checkpoint a series of questions or ask for information, such as:

    • Where are you going?
    • Where are you coming from?
    • Request your driver’s license.
    • Request your registration.
    • Request your current vehicle insurance or proof of insurance card.
    • Ask whether or not you have been drinking that evening.

    Doesn’t Law Enforcement Need Probable Cause to Stop a Vehicle and Conduct a Field Sobriety Test

    Yes, law enforcement does need probable cause, but sobriety checkpoints skirt the lines. Officers can still claim that the driver appeared intoxicated at the checkpoint, which is why they stopped them. Other times, when officers run a driver’s license plate or driver’s license number, they may find outstanding warrants for that person and have probable cause to stop and detain them.

    You Have Fourth Amendment Rights, but the U.S. Supreme Court Balances Safety over Rights

    Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court feels that there is a balance between public safety and protecting one’s rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, you technically have protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

    In a normal DUI stop, officers need to show they had probable cause to stop your vehicle and test your BAC. If they cannot do so, the case is dismissed. In a DUI Checkpoint, officers are stopping all vehicles on the road – whether they suspect them of a DUI or not.

    Despite this, the courts have found that a temporary, pre-reported stop is not a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. This is because it is more important to remove intoxicated motorists from the road and protect public safety.

    Just because the court approves of these checkpoints does not mean every arrest at a checkpoint will hold up in court when a person is charged with a DUI at a checkpoint.

    DUI Checkpoints Are a Gray Legal Area – and You May Have a Defense

    A DUI or sobriety checkpoint might be legal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but again, only if law enforcement follows strict rules. When law enforcement does not follow these rules, the evidence gathered may be unusable in court. Therefore, it would be hard for the state to prove you were under the influence if the judge excludes your BAC level or the officer’s report.

    Therefore, if you are arrested at a sobriety checkpoint in New Mexico, you may have a strong defense. Before you try to negotiate with the prosecutor, contact a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling DUI cases.

    At New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, we find that more often than not, these sobriety checkpoints are not conducted in the way they should be. Law enforcement often commit errors that give you an advantage, and sometimes they even break protocol, making it easier to get your case dismissed.

    Never assume that you do not have a defense strategy. Instead, use your right to remain silent and contact an attorney from New Mexico Criminal Law Offices immediately.

    Our attorneys have helped countless individuals just like you get the best possible outcome for their DUI case. You need a team of attorneys that handle these cases regularly, know your rights, and know the common errors made at checkpoints.

    To get started, book a free case evaluation with our defense team by calling our office. You can also ask us a question online or request more information by completing the online contact form.