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The Constitutionality of Roadblocks and Sobriety Checkpoints in Massachusetts

One of the most common ways for Massachusetts State Police to charge drivers with Operating Under the Influence (OUI) is through the use of roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints. The purpose of a sobriety checkpoint as defined by the Massachusetts legislature is to “further educate the motoring public and strengthen the public’s awareness to the need of detecting and removing those motorists who operate under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs from our roadways.” Sobriety checkpoints and roadblocks are organized in a joint effort by the State and local police, through which cars traveling on a predetermined road will be stopped and subject to police questioning. This allows officers to take an initial overview of the condition of the car and the condition of the driver, assessing whether the driver could be under the influence of alcohol. If the officer reasonably suspects that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol, he or she will be directed to take a preliminary breath or chemical test or instructed to perform a series of roadside sobriety tests. If you register a 0.08% blood alcohol content during a roadside sobriety test or breath test in Massachusetts, you may be charged with operating under the influence and face serious consequences. In instances such as these, the evidence of ones impairment while operating a vehicle are exclusively found in the results of the breath, chemical, or roadside sobriety test issued by the police officer. The results of these tests are often incorrect or inaccurate due to human and machine errors. An aggressive and accomplished Massachusetts OUI defense attorney will know how to proceed with your case and achieve the most favorable outcome in the event you are charged with OUI at a roadblock.

Fourth Amendment Conflict
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, thus it is illegal to stop or search someone without a search warrant or at least probable cause. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made the OUI exemption to the Constitution, twelve states have found that sobriety checkpoints violate their own state constitutions or have outlawed them. In these states, individuals have more protections against unreasonable searches, and have banned the use of police sobriety roadblocks. However, this is not the case in Massachusetts. In the 1980’s, Massachusetts’s residents challenged the constitutionality of the use of such roadblocks to catch those driving under the influence. In Commonwealth v. McGeoghegan, 389 Mass. 137 (1983) and Commonwealth v. Trumble, 396 Mass. 81, 92 (1985), the Massachusetts Supreme Court found that the State police’s method of using roadblocks to detect drunk drivers was reasonable under both the State and Federal constitution. The adjudication of these cases did however prompt the Massachusetts Supreme Court to outline the necessary requirements to establish a legal roadblock. For a roadblock to be permissible under Massachusetts state law, it appears that the selection of motor vehicles to be stopped must not be arbitrary, safety must be assured, motorists’ inconvenience must be minimized and assurance must be given that the procedure is being conducted pursuant to a plan devised by law enforcement supervisory personnel. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also requires the state police to notify the media within four days that a sobriety checkpoint is going to be held on a specific date in a specific county.

The biggest issue with the use of roadblocks in Massachusetts is that police officers do not have to witness any erratic behavior or dangerous driving to pull you over; in other words, there exists no probable cause for the stop. This lack of probable cause leads to the dismissal of many OUI cases in Massachusetts, as the police officer will be required to admit that the individual’s driving or conduct was never at issue. An experienced Massachusetts OUI criminal defense attorney will know the best defenses and strategies to win your case. In the event that you are charged with an OUI at a roadblock, speak to a smart and qualified attorney immediately.

Effectiveness of Sobriety Checkpoints
The use of roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints is a contested issue in the United States as they very rarely result in the actual arrest of individuals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the number of DUI arrests made by roving patrols is nearly three times the average number of DUI arrests made by officers at a sobriety checkpoint. Police officials argue that they provide a tool to create awareness of drunk driving in the community, and exist more for the purpose of deterrence. The existence of checkpoints in general makes drunk drivers aware that they could be stopped at any time, and therefore, deters them from getting behind the wheel for fear of consequences. The other side of the spectrum argues that the use of sobriety checkpoints in an intrusion on the privacy of sober motorists, and permits police officers to question and probe them without any probable cause.

The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy understands that mistakes can happen to the most unlikely people at the most unfortunate of times. That’s why for over eighteen years, he has been defending those charged with OUI throughout the state of Massachusetts. Attorney Murphy is a well respected and knowledgeable defense lawyer, and can help you get your charges reduced or dropped no matter what your situation may be. The longer you wait, the worse your outcome may be, so contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today for a free and confidential legal consultation by calling 617-367-0450 or completing the contacts tab on our website. As a dedicated lawyer, Attorney Murphy is available 24/7 to discuss your case.