Mostly during holidays that are linked with drinking and driving, such as the summer bookends Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend, many law enforcement agencies in the Houston area set up DWI roadblocks. Officers and prosecutors love checkpoints, because they are exempt from the reasonable suspicion rule. Checkpoint officers may detain drivers simply due to their position in a line of vehicles.
However, the legal shortcut comes at a cost. DWI checkpoints have a lot of procedural requirements, and any noncompliance could invalidate a subsequent arrest.
Minimum Checkpoint Standards
Courts were sharply divided on the legality of DWI roadblocks until the United States Supreme Court decided Michigan State Police v. Sitz in 1990. State law allowed such roadblocks in some situations, and the Justices ruled that they were legal all around the country as long as the checkpoints meet some minimum standards, including:
- Prior Publicity: The point of such publicity is to give drivers the opportunity to avoid the area altogether if they desire. So, the publicity must be adequate to meet this purpose. A post on a police department’s website may not be sufficient.
- Predetermined Procedures: Everything about the checkpoint, such as the location, hours of operation, and method of pulling over vehicles, must be set out in advance at the supervisory level.
- Convenience of Motorists: This element covers several areas. First, the checkpoint must be in a very safe location, not someplace like a highway exit. Next, signage must clearly indicate that there is a DWI checkpoint ahead and give motorists an opportunity to turn around. Finally, the per-vehicle delay must be very brief; in Sitz, it was twenty-five seconds per car.
If the checkpoint falls short in any area, no matter how seemingly insignificant, it is not a Sitz checkpoint and therefore arguably invalid.
Your Rights at a Checkpoint
As mentioned, motorists can turn around and not go through the checkpoint. If that happens, officers often deploy chase cars to follow these motorists for at least a mile or so. But simply avoiding the checkpoint does not constitute reasonable suspicion. The shadowing officer must have additional facts to pull over a vehicle.
At the checkpoint, motorists must present requested information, typically a drivers’ license and insurance. They need not answer questions and need not even roll down their windows. In Texas, people have a First Amendment right to use their cellphones to record police activities, but the ruling is a little vague on the details and the Supreme Court has yet to rule in this area.
Partner With an Aggressive Attorney
DWI checkpoints are legal in Texas if they adhere to specific rules. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Houston, contact the Law Office of Jim Medley. Convenient payment plans are available.