One of the most important rights guaranteed to us by the Oklahoma and U.S. Constitution is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that before they can arrest you or take away your property in the absence of an arrest or search warrant, police must follow legally-defined procedures to minimize the risk of constitutionally unreasonable behavior.
One way that the question of whether a search and seizure is acceptable can arise is in the context of the vehicle checkpoint or DUI roadblocks. In Oklahoma, the two common varieties of these checkpoints are the DUI checkpoint and the driver license checkpoint. But how are you, or a court, supposed to know if such a checkpoint is being done properly?
Fortunately, checkpoints – and cases examining their legality – have been the subject of enough litigation that the standards for their validity are reasonably well-established. These standards require law enforcement officials to satisfy a balancing test which weighs the public interest in creating the checkpoint against the privacy rights of the drivers being stopped.
On roadways, the public interest must be safety-related: checkpoints cannot be used as “fishing expeditions” for the purpose of gathering evidence of general criminal activity. Thus, for example, it is unconstitutional to create a checkpoint to look for evidence of drug possession.
Aside from the narrowly-defined public safety interests in enforcing driver license requirements and ensuring that drivers are not on the road while intoxicated, courts have also imposed on police additional requirements for checkpoint validity. These are mainly concerned with ensuring that the checkpoints themselves are operated fairly, treating drivers equally and removing as much as possible any arbitrary discretion on the part of the police performing the checks. A checkpoint that is found to have been set up with no written standards or guidelines, or in which there is no rational basis for why some vehicles are stopped but not others, or which is operated not in accordance with written policies runs a serious risk of having any evidence gathered from it not being considered.
In this regard, police need to have legally convincing answers to questions such as:
- What is the express, stated purpose of the checkpoint?
- Are there written guidelines governing how the checkpoint is to be set up and operated? Are those guidelines being followed?
- Who authorized the checkpoint (it should be someone with more authority than the patrol officers themselves)?
- Is the checkpoint activity being conducted in as reasonable a manner as possible, from the standpoint of where it is situated, how long drivers are being delayed overall and the duration of each individual being stopped? If not all drivers are being stopped, what are the criteria that determine who is stopped?
Even though driver license and DUI checkpoints have been in existence for some time, that does not guarantee that they will be constitutionally acceptable in every instance. Police can make mistakes and if those errors result in violation of your constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures then it is you and not the government who should receive the benefit of any doubt.
The Oklahoma DUI Attorneys at the Hunsucker Legal Group automatically start with the presumption that the roadblock is unconstitutional and subpoena all documents to investigate whether the government has complied with their burden to show that the roadblock was a permissible restraint on your constitutional protections. If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI, DWI, or APC, contact our office at 405-231-5600 or use our Oklahoma DUI contact form to schedule your free consultation.