You know how we feel about police roadblocks. Not to overstate the concern, but DUI checkpoints or roadblocks represent a serious threat to our Constitutional rights to avoid unreasonable searches. In fact, the Founding Fathers thought the threat of “unreasonable searches” were so important they wrote a limitation against it into the Fourth Amendment. Then the DUI exceptions to the Constitution came along. Law enforcement officers now call it the “public safety checkpoint” because the phrase sounds quite harmless.
It seems Pinellas County gets more than their fair share of roadblocks. If you were caught up in this weekend’s roadblock either because you were waived through or because you were “randomly” selected for further detention, then we’d love to hear about your experience. Some roadblocks go off better than others. We are always interested in what people actually saw during the roadblock and whether it caused them any delay.
Over the weekend, the Florida Highway Patrol hosted a Comprehensive Roadside Safety Checkpoint (the rest of us call it a “roadblock”). The stated purpose of the roadblock was to check random vehicles to see if the driver had a valid driver’s license, tag, and equipment inspection. Although the police love to tout the roadblocks as a way to stop drunk drivers, very few people are actually arrested for DUI during the roadblocks. In other words, they are not an effective way to stop drunk drivers but the roadblocks are extremely effective at creating a great inconvenience for law abiding citizens in Pinellas County.
This weekend’s DUI checkpoint in Pinellas County began on Friday, February 18, beginning at 8 p.m. along Southbound U.S.19 in Pinellas Park.
The DUI unit for the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), worked with the DUI officers with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the DUI enforcement officers in Pinellas Park Police Department, the DUI unit for Clearwater Police Department, the DUI officers with St. Petersburg Police Department, and DUI enforcement officers with Largo Police Department. Even the Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary helped out.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Mobile Command Bus was used for breath testing and processing of those arrested for DUI and other traffic related citations such as driving while license suspended or revoked. Detention deputies assigned to the Sheriff’s Office Transportation Section also helped transfer arrested men and women from the roadblock locations to the Pinellas County Jail.
Read more on our main website about how we fight DUI Checkpoints and Roadblocks in Tampa Bay, including important legal challenges that should be brought in these cases.
If the goal is cutting down on drunk driving, a better use of resources might be patrolling the streets to look for unsafe drivers or individuals who are breaking the law. Anyone arrested or cited during a roadblock should be aware that these cases can often be challenged because the search and detention violated the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. In fact, the issue in those challenges is not whether any one particular stop was reasonable, but whether the entire DUI Checkpoint Guidelines were reasonable and actually followed in the field.
If the officers in the field deviated from the DUI Checkpoint Guidelines, then the entire roadblock could be declared unconstitutional. For these reasons, prosecutors and judges tend to want to resolve those cases without devoting several days to hearings on the motion to suppress. In fact, in some cases the prosecutor drops the charges even before the motion hearing takes place.
As a matter of public policy, criminal defense attorneys should look very carefully at the roadblocks to determine whether it is in full compliance with the Guidelines. The criminal defense attorney should also look carefully at the Guidelines to make sure they are properly written. Criminal defense attorneys represent an important “check and balance” in the system that helps make sure these roadblocks are rarely used.
Never resolve a case involving a roadblock or checkpoint until your attorney has done a complete investigation of the entire roadblock and uncovered any problems that always go along with carrying out the “written guidelines” in the field.
Pinellas County DUI Checkpoints and Roadblocks Links
Update on February 7, 2011 Deputies Arrest Driver For DUI in Connection With Deputy Involved Crash –
Deputies Investigate Three Vehicle Crash Involving Deputy Cruiser – Related news about DUI investigations in Pinellas County, Read Press Release #: 11-030 Updated: February 7, 2011.
Pinellas County DUI Roadblock or “Checkpoint” Effective? – Read another blog article that looks at the number of people arrested for various offenses from a Pinellas County DUI Checkpoint in 2009.
St. Petersburg DUI Attorney on Pinellas County Checkpoints and Roadblocks – Article written by a fellow DUI attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, about defending against roadblocks and checkpoints.
[Update from February 18, 2012: DUI Checkpoints in Pinellas County to Increase Throughout 2012]