In recent years, New Jersey law enforcement has noticeably cracked down on motorists to improve traffic safety and deter traffic crimes. Officers have paid special attention to drunk and drugged driving.
Roadside checkpoints are a method commonly used by law enforcement to prevent residents from driving while intoxicated or otherwise impaired. These checkpoints are posted in spots where there is a high concentration of traffic, like by a concert hall, a sports stadium, or on busy streets during the holidays. These checkpoints aren't intended to be a secret, as they serve as a visual deterrent. Details about their whereabouts are posted online or in the newspaper ahead of time.
If you come across a roadside checkpoint, it's important you understand what you're dealing with. A stop at this point could result in a DWI arrest, which in turn could lead to a conviction. Read further to learn more about roadside checkpoints in New Jersey.
How Roadside Checkpoints Work
As aforementioned, roadside checkpoints are easy to spot. You'll know you're approaching a checkpoint when you see a bright orange sign with huge letters that read “checkpoint ahead.” Most people who see this sign become anxious and intimidated, regardless of whether or not they're impaired. Although the presence of law enforcement should be comforting in theory, the opposite is truer - being stopped by a police officer is scary for most people. But if you've come across a roadside checkpoint, you shouldn't panic just yet.
The prospect of being stopped while driving through a roadside checkpoint boils down to luck. And what most drivers don't know is that you don't have to let luck dictate your fate either. There is technically no law that requires you to stay on a road with a checkpoint. It is legal to turn off the road or U-turn to avoid a checkpoint as long as this action is done lawfully.
If you decide to go through the checkpoint and you're stopped, the officer will ask you a few questions to check for signs of impairment. If the officer doesn't pick up on anything, you'll be allowed to go on your way. If, however, the officer suspects you've been drinking or consuming drugs, you will be held for further investigation.
Roadside Checkpoint Guidelines in New Jersey
On the surface, roadside checkpoints have the potential to be very problematic. The idea of officers having wide discretion as to who they let off and let pass can create room for biases and errors. This is why the Supreme Court has ruled that each state follow a number of guidelines that will maintain the legality and fairness of roadside checkpoints. If local law enforcement strays from these guidelines, an arrest for a DWI within a checkpoint would be considered unlawful, leading to the dismissal of charges. Here are some of the guidelines that New Jersey authorities are required to follow when posting and operating roadside checkpoints:
The checkpoint must be clearly visible. In order to ensure the safety of all parties on the road, checkpoints should be easily identifiable. This way, all drivers are given time to stop or slow to a safe speed. Roadside checkpoints must also be located in places that will not disrupt traffic or create a hazardous situation for drivers and law enforcement agents alike.
The checkpoint must be posted in good judgment. New Jersey law requires that the length of each posted checkpoint be reasonable and conducted with professionalism. For example, a checkpoint shouldn't be conducted for days at a time nor should the behavior of the officers create intemperate stress for drivers.
All cars must have the same standard and reason for being stopped. It is important for law enforcement to come up with an established system or pattern to stop drivers. For example, perhaps a group of officers occupying a checkpoint may decide that they will stop every fourth car that passes through. Having a consistent system is supposed to prevent officers from exhibiting biases or discriminatory practices based on facts like race, sex, gender, or any other appearances when deciding who they stop.
The stop must be brief unless an officer has reasonable suspicion. According to guidelines, a stop at a roadside checkpoint should only last a few minutes unless an officer has found a reason to further investigate. Generally, interactions between officers and motorists are only intended to last long enough for an officer to ask a few generic questions and reasonably determine if a person is impaired. Longer encounters could mean that an officer is looking for a reason to pin a DWI on a driver.
Questions of Legality with DUI Checkpoints
The question of whether roadside checkpoints are legal has been contentiously debated since their inception. Opponents of this practice claim that despite guidelines, the checkpoints leave too much room for officers to stop the constitutional rights of motorists. While supporters of the practice argue that the checkpoints are fair and effective deterrents to impaired driving.
Despite the conflicting opinions of the public, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of roadside checkpoints in a controversial decision. The Court concluded that the degree of intrusion exercised by officers within roadside checkpoints is justified due to the public's critical interest in reducing the rates of accidents caused by motorists who drive under the influence.
But despite the highest court's decision, many people and legal experts claim that making an exception for roadside checks has proved to be not as effective as the court believed it would be.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the experience and credentials to defend and counsel people who've acquired DWI charges. He will explain your pending charges, build a solid defense and work towards getting your charges reduced or dropped. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm either online or by phone at 888-535-3686.