Most drunk driving enforcement in Massachusetts involves targeted efforts. Police officers can pull people over when their poor driving habits raise questions about their sobriety. Police officers frequently asked questions about substance abuse and request chemical testing after car crashes as well.
For a small percentage of people accused of impaired driving offenses, their arrest is the result of a large-scale enforcement effort rather than an individual encounter with law enforcement. So-called drunk driving roadblocks or sobriety checkpoints are a way for police officers to screen dozens, maybe hundreds, of people in just a few hours.
Everyone who passed a checkpoint will need to briefly interact with the police officers present, who will actively screen each driver for signs of impairment. Are sobriety checkpoints constitutional and legal for Massachusetts police officers to perform?
The federal courts affirm the validity of sobriety checkpoints
A few decades ago, a drunk-driving defendant took a case about sobriety checkpoints all the way to the federal Supreme Court. They claimed that such checkpoints were a violation of people’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the Supreme Court did not agree with that perspective. Instead, the court determined that such checkpoints were constitutionally permissible at the federal level.
Here in Massachusetts, state law enforcement agencies frequently conduct sobriety checkpoints. They often announce their intention to do so ahead of time, meaning that drivers can know when certain roads or certain dates are more likely to see drunk driving enforcement.
The summer may see an uptick in sobriety checkpoints
Starting with Memorial day going on through Labor Day, there are multiple summer holidays that involve people getting together and drinking alcohol. The summer holidays have a strong association with increased drunk driving crashes, so the summer months often see a number of sobriety checkpoints in Massachusetts and across the United States.
While drivers stopped at a sobriety checkpoint cannot defend themselves by alleging the checkpoint is inherently a violation of their rights, there may be other defense strategies possible. From challenging the breath test results to reviewing the paperwork the police department had in place for the checkpoint, there could be several defense strategies that can help those accused of drunk driving because of a roadblock.
Learning the rules that govern Massachusetts drunk driving offenses can help those hoping to defend it against pending charges.