That Checkpoint Stop Could Be Illegal

Police are allowed to set up “Driver’s Safety” checkpoints with the stated purpose of checking for vehicle related offenses: DUI/DWI, driver’s license and/or registration violations. These checkpoints must follow a certain protocol but in a Driver’s Safety checkpoint, all cars or cars in a regular pattern such as every third car, can be stopped without any reason to do so.
These vehicle safety checkpoints are completely different from a general crime control checkpoint because the police cannot stop cars to check for criminal activity without individualized suspicion. That is, they have to have some specific information about the particular car in question before it can be stopped. A checkpoint to search cars for illegal narcotics is an example of a general crime control purpose.
The first step in a checkpoint case analysis is to figure out what is the primary purpose of the checkpoint. The reasons and evidence submitted by the police such as a written plan for the checkpoint and their stated reasons for its existence must be closely scrutinized to determine the whether the actual purpose of the checkpoint is valid or whether it is a mere subterfuge for a general crime control purpose.
Secondly, the judge must balance the public/police’s interest in a checkpoint against the privacy interests of the individuals stopped.
The relevant questions are:
(1) How important is the purpose of the checkpoint?
(2) What were the reasons for why the checkpoint was set up in the first place?
Why was this particular location selected? Was the checkpoint planned in advance or at the last minute? Did the police have a pre-determined start and stop time? Why were these times selected?
(3) Is the intrusion on privacy interests no greater than necessary to achieve the objectives? Relevant issues are: the amount of interference with traffic? Were people told in advance of the checkpoint? Was it clear that it was a police run checkpoint? Who authorized or decided that there should be a checkpoint? Who chose the location? Was every car stopped or was a specified pattern employed? Was the checkpoint operated pursuant to specific oral or written guidelines?
What should you take away from this post? If you are stopped and searched by police at a checkpoint, the evidence and the case could be thrown out if the main reason for the checkpoint is to reduce crime and if the benefits of the checkpoint are outweighed by other factors. This is one of those situations when an in-depth legal analysis is required. After all, if A Motion to Suppress is granted, your case will be dismissed!