Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Years, and a variety of other winter holidays are just around the corner. That means celebrations with friends and family, good food and libations. But for police officers, it means DUI hunting season. And one of their hunting tools: suspicion-less DUI/DWI checkpoints.
Law enforcement agencies typically employ DUI/DWI checkpoints during the holiday season in effort to protect publish safety by discouraging drunk driving and punishing those who get behind the wheel after a few drinks. While a handful of states outlaw suspicion-less checkpoints, the vast majority of the United States, including Maryland, deems DUI checkpoints to be a perfectly reasonable law enforcement technique. The Supreme Court agrees. In the court’s most recent ruling on the subject, justices stipulated that although a checkpoint is a in fact a “seizure,” it is an acceptable legal tool—determining that its effectiveness in preventing drunk driving far outweighed the “minimal intrusion” or inconvenience caused to the driver.
And though some civil liberties advocates continue to lambast the technique, it is understandable why police would use a Supreme Court-backed legal tool during the holidays. Using statistics from 2001 to 2005, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) calculated that an average of 45 people died each day during the holiday season as a result of car accidents where alcohol was involved. The largest number of DUI-related fatalities happened on Thanksgiving, with New Years and Christmas not far behind.
But while the Supreme Court has so far sanctioned DUI checkpoints in Maryland and elsewhere, they cannot be executed by police officers willy-nilly. There are various requirements that a checkpoint must meet in order to be valid under the law.
A legal DUI Checkpoint in Maryland must meet the following qualifications:
• It must be “systematic, non-discriminatory, and non-arbitrary;”
• It’s impetus must be the protection of public safety;
• It must be publicized ahead of time (usually with a large road sign), in order to lower the stress placed on the driver;
• Drivers must be given the chance to turn around if they don’t want to be stopped;
• And the checkpoint has to be OK’d by a top-level member of the police force.
And though Maryland police will surely use checkpoints throughout the holiday season, not everyone is gung ho about the technique. Some police believe ramping up patrol units, instead of concentrating resources on a checkpoint operation, is a more effective tool for fighting drunk driving. In 2008, Lt. David Kloos, a commander for the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barrack, told the Herald-Mail the following: “If you look at statistics, statistics will probably tell you a saturation patrol is more successful, but the checkpoint is an educational process.”
Efficient or not, checkpoints will be a reality for many Maryland drivers this holiday season. If you’re arrested at a checkpoint, you should make sure that the checkpoint met all of the qualifications listed above. A Maryland DUI defense attorney can review your case to make sure your rights are properly protected and determine whether police violated procedure at any point during your arrest.
Even if the checkpoint was legitimately executed, a DUI lawyer (such as a qualified attorney at The Law Office of Edward Tayter) can help defend your rights and analyze your case to determine if at any point your case was tainted by police misconduct. In the event that a DUI lawyer can’t find a way to see get your case dismissed or win you a “not guilty” verdict, they can do their best to find a best possible outcome, potentially minimizing the penalties, given the circumstances. See our DUI Lawyer homepage for more information on how to secure the assistance of a experienced DUI lawyer in Maryland.