The holiday season means many great things for people in New Jersey, such as family, friends, and celebration. Since the “celebration” part of the holidays can sometimes lead to excess, police tend to step up efforts to enforce New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws on roads during the holidays. This may include the use of roadside sobriety checkpoints. New Jersey police are allowed to stop drivers at temporary checkpoint locations to inquire about alcohol consumption and look for signs of intoxication. The ability of police to do this is strictly limited, however, by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. New Jersey drivers should know their rights during sobriety checkpoint stops.
The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense primarily as operating a motor vehicle “while under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, or with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. The state may prove this by offering evidence of a defendant’s BAC obtained from a breath sample, which all drivers in New Jersey are required to provide under law, or through other evidence indicating that a defendant was impaired at the time they were operating a vehicle. Many DWI cases begin with a traffic stop based on a police officer’s suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The Fourth Amendment requires that this be a “reasonable suspicion,” meaning that police officers cannot pull a driver over without some clear basis for suspecting DWI. To make an arrest, police must have “probable cause” to believe an offense has occurred.
Sobriety checkpoints, which allow police to stop some or all vehicles on a particular stretch of road, clearly do not involve “reasonable suspicion,” but the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed their constitutionality. In 1990, the court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that preventing DWI was a “substantial government interest,” that sobriety checkpoints “reasonably…advance that interest,” and that “the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists” is minimal. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that a sobriety checkpoint was constitutional in 1985 in State v. Kirk, and in 1989 in State v. Mazurek. The New Jersey Supreme Court reached a similar ruling in 2002’s State v. Carty.
Police are subject to strict limits on how they may operate sobriety checkpoints. In Sitz, the U.S. Supreme Court held that its ruling only applies to a very brief stop, and that any further detention of a driver, such as for additional questioning or field sobriety testing, would require more specific reasonable suspicion. In other words, the police can stop any vehicle at a sobriety checkpoint, but they must have a specific justification for asking a driver to step out of the vehicle.
New Jersey courts have also held that, in order for a stop at a sobriety checkpoint to be constitutional, it must be “neutral,” meaning that police may not use methods like profiling to decide which vehicles to stop. Police operating sobriety checkpoints in New Jersey sometimes stop every fifth vehicle, which has been held to be constitutional. In 1998, the Appellate Division held in State v. Reynolds “that one method of insuring such neutrality is to stop all traffic.”
Evan Levow, a New Jersey DWI lawyer, advocates for the rights people who are facing charges of alleged DWI in this state’s municipal courts. He can help you understand your rights, guide you through the court process, and prepare the best defense for your case. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled team.
More Blog Posts:
New Jersey Law Enforcement Agencies Plan DWI Checkpoints for the Holidays, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 21, 2016
DWI Checkpoints Remain Legal in New Jersey, but Police Must Follow Strict Guidelines, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 3, 2015
Holiday DWI Stories Illustrate Important Principles of New Jersey DWI Law, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 13, 2015