Drunk Driving Enforcement During the Winter Holidays

Drunk Driving Winter

Between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, alcohol consumption doubles in New York. At family gatherings, many people drink to relieve stress.

At non-family gatherings, many people party like it’s 1999. According to the same survey, overindulgence prompts many people to do things that shouldn’t be printed on a family-friendly website.

More importantly for our purposes, alcohol is a key factor in many fatal car crashes. To reduce the number of such incidents, law enforcement is usually out in force during the winter holidays.

Some common tactics, which are examined below, often involve some shortcuts. Frequently, these shortcuts create significant problems for prosecutors when these DUI cases go to criminal court.

DUI Roadblocks

Sobriety checkpoints are almost as old as the automobile. The first ones popped up in Europe in the 1920s. But peace officers cannot detain people unless they reasonably believe they have done something wrong. Therefore, for many years, random checkpoints were a no-no.

This environment changed drastically in 1991. That year, the Supreme Court decided Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. This case legalized DUI checkpoints nationwide. However, some rules apply:

  • Legislative Authorization: Technically, Sitz allowed states to decide the sobriety checkpoint issue. New York legislators have authorized checkpoints. But the law is different in different states. Additionally, the legislature has the power to ban checkpoints.
  • High-Level Setup: A county sheriff, police chief, or other high-level supervisor must authorize a specific checkpoint. The supervisor may then delegate some of the specifics, but not all of them, to lower-level individuals. These duties include publicizing the checkpoint in advance, so drivers can avoid the area if they want.
  • Physical Requirements: Roadblocks must be well-lit and set up in safe places, like a surface street far away from an intersection. Furthermore, cones or other obstacles must control traffic. Additionally, signs must clearly indicate the checkpoint’s purpose and give instructions, like “Have Proof of Insurance and Drivers’ License Ready.”
  • Detention Pattern: Random checkpoints cannot be random. Officers may only detain motorists according to a set formula, such as every third vehicle. If traffic backs up, they can change the formula and pull over fewer vehicles. Total motorist detention time cannot exceed more than about thirty seconds.

Drivers have rights at DUI checkpoints. For example, under the Fifth Amendment, they have the right to remain silent. Drivers don’t have to answer any questions.

In fact, they don’t even have to roll down their windows. They must simply follow basic commands, like producing the aforementioned documents for inspection.

A breakdown in either area, failure to follow the rules or failure to respect individual rights, could invalidate the checkpoint. If the checkpoint is no good, the arrest is no good as well.

Sobriety checkpoints are expensive. Officer overtime alone costs roughly $7,000 per checkpoint. That’s a lot of money, considering most checkpoints only operate for two or three hours. Therefore, DUI roadblocks usually only appear around drunk driving holidays, like Labor Day and New Year’s Day.

STEP Campaigns

Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs can be costly as well. However, the state or federal government usually pays the tab. STEP campaigns usually have clever marketing department nicknames, like Click It or Ticket.

Officers may take shortcuts in DUIs during the stop or during the arrest.

Officers must have reasonable suspicion to detain motorists. If a driver “looks wrong” but has done nothing wrong, such as driving slowly after leaving a bar, that’s just an officer hunch.

Once they stop motorists, officers must have probable cause to arrest them. Usually, poor performance on the field sobriety tests establishes probable cause. But if the officer gets in a hurry and skips these tests, little proof is available in court.

Stay safe and know your rights this holiday season. For a free consultation with an experienced New York personal injury attorney, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We have offices nationwide.