Earlier we looked at the constitutionality of DUI and driver’s license checkpoints in Oklahoma, and went into some detail the criteria for how courts in this state review the legality of such checkpoints. One of these is whether, before implementing such a checkpoint, law enforcement announced in advance where and when it will take place. The seriousness with which Oklahoma police and prosecutors take these requirements can be illustrated by some recent news stories that have appeared in media in this state.
As a recent example, consider a news account announcing the intention of police to establish a checkpoint in Pauls Valley. The information provided to the media outlet was specific as to where the checkpoint would be located (down to the specific address), when (Saturday, June 20, 2015) and the time range within which it would be in operation (10:00 PM to 1:00 AM). The checkpoint in question was fairly typical, being set up on a weekend night – the most common day and time range in which drunk drivers take to the roads.
It may seem counterintuitive for police to be so specific in advance about their intent to set up a checkpoint. After all, anyone who would be planning to go out drinking in Pauls Valley on the night in question would, it would seem, be able to thwart the social and safety-related usefulness of the checkpoint simply by avoiding the exact location where the police indicated that it would be. But as another news account indicates, there are many people of precisely the type that police are interested in taking off the roads who either do not pay attention to advance warnings of checkpoints, or disregard them.
At a recent checkpoint in Oklahoma City, during its operation more than 900 vehicles went into it. What happened to some of them offers a glimpse into the types of dangerous drivers who may be found on the road:
- A little more than 10 percent of the drivers who entered the checkpoint (81 of them) ended up receiving at least a citation. 17 were arrested.
- About one of every 20 vehicles that entered the checkpoint was impounded.
- Although the checkpoint was established specifically as a sobriety checkpoint (remember, the type of the checkpoint matters – DUI and driver’s license checkpoints are legal under Oklahoma law but roadblocks for general crime deterrence are not), many of the citations and arrests had nothing to do with drunk driving. Although 900 citizens were stopped without reasonable suspicion of a crime, only six arrests were made for DUI. In addition to DUI, drivers were arrested for drug possession, driving with suspended licenses, outstanding warrants and in one case for assault and battery on a police officer. Eighty-one citations were issued for various violations including suspended license drivers, as well as for more than 20 who were on the road with no car insurance.
It may seem like establishing a DUI checkpoint is really just a pretext for a more general “dragnet” activity on the part of police, but as long as they observe the legal and policy requirements for setting up such a checkpoint it can be difficult to challenge a non-DUI arrest or citation issued at one. Still, any time a driver faces charges arising from running afoul of a checkpoint, an experienced DUI defense attorney will nonetheless need to consider whether the police in fact did observe all of the legal requirements to set up and operate the checkpoint to see if any failure to follow required procedures can offer a defense.