One of law enforcement’s primary tasks is to apprehend motorists who are driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (“DUI”) in South Carolina. One law enforcement technique in combating DUI is the vehicle checkpoint. A checkpoint, also referred to as a “roadblock,” can be a valuable tool for law enforcement because vehicles passing through the checkpoint during the established hours may be stopped, inquired of, and further investigated if warranted. Checkpoints not only result in arrests for DUI but also for license and insurance violations, narcotics offenses, and arrests for outstanding warrants.
However, law enforcement cannot arbitrarily establish a checkpoint. Federal and South Carolina law requires that very specific procedures be followed at the checkpoint designed so that the checkpoint complies with the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment mandates that people be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Stopping a driver at a checkpoint is a seizure. Therefore, the government must prove that a stop of a motorist at a checkpoint is constitutional, or “reasonable.” If not reasonable, the violation of the motorist’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures may result in suppression of evidence gathered from the checkpoint stop, including any alcohol/drug testing results, field sobriety test results, and observations by the arresting officer.
UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of checkpoints/roadblocks in City of Indianapolis v. Edmond. Considering the Indianapolis Police Department’s checkpoint, the Court found that the Department was conducting warrantless searches of vehicles, without individualized suspicion, for the purpose of “general crime control”, which the Court held unconstitutional.
The United States Supreme Court created a three-factor analysis to determine the constitutionality (reasonableness) of a checkpoint. The Court must balance the following:
- The gravity of the public interest being served;
- The degree of the seizure serving the public interest? and
- The severity of the checkpoint interfering with individual liberty?
Therefore, the checkpoint must be designed in a manner to ensure roadway safety, and law enforcement must provide sufficient data supporting the effectiveness of the roadblock. The failure to provide this evidence will result in the checkpoint being deemed unconstitutional.
The above requirements are general requirements under the Constitution, but further protection is provided pursuant to the South Carolina Constitution.
The bottom line is that since a checkpoint triggers a Fourth Amendment analysis of whether the “seizure” was reasonable, a checkpoint designed to assist law enforcement in general crime control as opposed to a specific, articulated and supported purpose will not withstand scrutiny under the Constitution. Again, stopping a motorist at a checkpoint is a seizure under the Constitution, and as such, must be reasonable.
If you are charged with a criminal offense arising from an encounter with a law enforcement checkpoint, an experienced criminal defense attorney will investigate whether the checkpoint passes constitutional muster.
Attorney Kirk Truslow's practice focuses solely on criminal defense in State and Federal Courts. In practice for thirty years, Truslow has successfully defended many cases in State and Federal Court and served as lead counsel in many State and Federal Court jury trials. If you are being investigated or have been charged with a criminal offense, contact attorney Kirk Truslow at 843.449.3304 or at email@example.com.