New Jersey Law Enforcement Agencies Plan DWI Checkpoints for the Holidays

HolidaysThe holidays are a time of happiness and celebration for many people, but law enforcement officials are aware of the risks to public safety potentially posed by too much celebration. Police departments throughout New Jersey have announced increased enforcement of state laws regarding driving while intoxicated (DWI) during the holiday season. They have many means of doing this at their disposal, from traffic stops based on a reasonable suspicion that a person might be impaired by alcohol, to roadside checkpoints intended to check drivers for DWI. While the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limits the ability of police to stop and search people, and those limits have just as much force during the holidays as at any other time of the year, courts have allowed police to operate DWI checkpoints subject to certain requirements. We encourage everyone to enjoy the holidays and be safe, and to know their rights under state and federal laws.

New Jersey’s DWI statute makes it a motor vehicle offense to operate a vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor,” or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. This means that police can arrest someone on suspicion of DWI, and prosecutors can pursue charges, even without evidence of a BAC above the legal limit. To do so, they must present other types of evidence, such as testimony from an officer who observed a defendant at or near the time of their arrest and can describe behavior, appearance, or other conditions indicative of intoxication.

The holiday season often features parties in bars and other public venues and in people’s homes. Police across the state are participating in the two-week “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over 2016 Year End Holiday Crackdown,” a program supported by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety (DHTS). Local law enforcement agencies may obtain grants from the DHTS to assist in implementing the campaign, which includes “saturation patrols” by police and increased use of roadside DWI checkpoints.

The use of checkpoints for DWI enforcement raises multiple constitutional questions. Under the Fourth Amendment, police are not supposed to detain a person unless they have a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is in the process of committing, or will imminently commit a criminal or traffic offense. A roadside checkpoint, by definition, stops everybody who happens upon it, regardless of whether police have any reason to suspect them of anything. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, affirmed the constitutionality of this practice in a 1990 decision, Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz.

New Jersey courts have given further consideration to DWI checkpoints in light of the Sitz decision. In 2002’s State v. Carty, the New Jersey Supreme Court identified three factors that would support the constitutionality of a roadside checkpoint:  “adequate warnings to avoid frightening the traveling public,” “advance general publicity” specifically geared toward discouraging drunk driving before it happens, and “officially specified neutral and courteous procedures” that checkpoint officers must observe. If the state’s holiday “crackdown” on DWI follows these principles, courts are likely to affirm its constitutionality.

If you are facing alleged DWI charges in a New Jersey court, a knowledgeable and skilled DWI attorney like Evan Levow can help you understand your rights, guide you through the judicial process, and defend your rights in court. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Township Offers Free Rides in Effort to Reduce DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 24, 2015

New Jersey Township Offers Free Rides in Effort to Reduce DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 24, 2015

Holiday DWI Stories Illustrate Important Principles of New Jersey DWI Law, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 13, 2015

Photo credit: Evonne [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.