Perhaps the most crucial element of a DUI roadblock, when questioning its legality, is police discretion. Discretion refers to the freedom given to the police officers that are actually running the roadblock. For example: pulling over cars, interacting with drivers and, if they feel necessary, making arrests. It is an abuse of that discretion that leads to oppressive law enforcement. Because of this, many courts – both state and federal – have carefully analyzed the discretion of police in DUI roadblock cases. Courts look for ways the law enforcement intentionally limited and checked the discretion of their officers in the field.
Neutral Plan for Making Stops
Courts decided that police need a reasonable suspicion to pull someone over, or some neutral plan of making stops. When it comes to roadblocks, this neutral plan should be clearly laid out and supervised by authorities outside of the roadblock operation.
One bad example of a roadblock execution happened in Massachusetts. The chief of police and four officers decided to create a drunk driving roadblock the very same day they thought of it. Consequently, courts found there was no neutral plan on how to run it, and which cars to stop – the officers in the field had all of the discretion.
Contrast this with an example in Maryland, where there were clear, careful and comprehensive rules and guidelines for the field officers to follow. There was nine police conducting the roadblock, with one supervisor overseeing its operation. Officers read the same prepared statement to each stopped driver. They even gave out a pamphlet for drivers to critique the roadblock and return to the state. These factors altogether decreased the chance for police abuse, and thoroughly limited the discretion of the officers involved in the roadblock.
Purpose, Location and Timing
Also, other than discretion there are other factors for DUI Roadblocks. Those include:
- Purpose: the Roadblock must have a purpose that clearly states it is for the prevention of drunk driving (not a jumbled list of possible citations).
- Location: is there a good reason behind the location? Ideally a high frequency of drunk driving incidents in the area.
- Timing: is it set up during a high-DUI risk time frame? ex. when bars close. Intrusiveness: each stop should be short, no more than a few minutes, and ideally the roadblock should be avoidable.
- Safety: is it creating a backup in the middle of the road? And the effectiveness: the roadblock should have some evidence that it served its purpose.
Balance of Interests
In conclusion, DUI roadblocks are scrutinized under a balance of interests. While there are many factors to consider, the most influential is police discretion. A good roadblock limits discretion by having procedures and guidelines from supervisors, and field officers who following those set procedures.