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New York Court Weighs in On the Legality of Drunk Driving Checkpoints

As New York DWI lawyers, we are following a recent state appellate court  opinion on a New York DWI case discussing the procedures law enforcement must use to legally conduct a DWI checkpoint. Ultimately, the court concluded that the checkpoint used by law enforcement leading to the defendant’s arrest was legal, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Drunk driving checkpoints are used throughout New York to catch intoxicated drivers. However, historically, these checkpoints have been used to target specific groups of motorists. Thus, courts have held that all DWI checkpoints must comply with certain guidelines; otherwise, they are unconstitutional.  It is important for attorneys that handle New York DWI’s to know the specific requirements for operating a constitutional checkpoint when conducting suppression hearings.

The Facts of the Case

The relevant facts in the case are straightforward: the defendant was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint and eventually arrested for driving while intoxicated. Evidently, there were signs immediately before the checkpoint entrance, indicating the presence of law enforcement. All law enforcement were in marked cars with the vehicle’s emergency lights on, and all officers were wearing their uniforms. Additionally, the officers operating the checkpoint would stop every car that passed by. However, officers would not ask motorists for their license and proof of insurance, as not to impede the flow of traffic any more than necessary.

In a pre-trial motion, the defendant argued that the observations of law enforcement, as well as any evidence obtained as a result of the checkpoint, should be suppressed because the checkpoint was not carried out according to the proper procedures. Specifically, the defendant argued the checkpoint did not comply with requirements because law enforcement was not required to ask for motorists’ licenses and insurance. The trial court rejected the defendant’s motion, after which he pled guilty. The defendant then appealed the denial of his motion.

On appeal, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction after holding that the DWI checkpoint complied with all constitutional requirements. Specifically, the court found the following:

  • The location of the checkpoint, as well as how it was operated, was previously approved by the checkpoint commander sergeant before police set up the checkpoint;
  • The primary purpose of the checkpoint was to deter drunk and impaired driving and to generally promote highway safety;
  • The officers operating the checkpoint were given explicit instructions regarding how the checkpoint should be operated;
  • The checkpoint resulted in a “minimal intrusion” on drivers’ liberty and privacy interests.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument regarding the officers’ failure to ask for motorists’ license and insurance information. The court explained that the decision not to do so was made in advance by the checkpoint commander sergeant and was supported by a valid reason.

Have You Been Arrested at a New York DWI Checkpoint?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a New York drunk driving offense, contact the dedicates criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, our knowledgeable team of attorneys provides clients with top-notch representation regardless of the allegations they face. We have decades of experience handling all types of New York DWI cases, including those involving checkpoint arrests. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call 877-377-8666 today.

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