New Jersey is ramping up its crackdown on drinking and driving through the end of August and the busy Labor Day weekend holiday. This year, the state gave 158 New Jersey towns $5,000 each to set up DWI checkpoints and conduct roving patrols during this period. State and local law enforcement are joining with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises, “The purpose of checkpoints is to deter driving after drinking by increasing the perceived risk of arrest. To do this, checkpoints should be highly visible, publicized extensively, and conducted regularly.” New Jersey law enforcement hopes that the widely publicized, widespread dispersal of checkpoints during the notoriously dangerous holiday weekend will deter drivers who might otherwise risk driving while “tipsy” or impaired.
Are DWI/DUI or “sobriety” checkpoints legal?
A sobriety checkpoint is a fixed location at which law enforcement officers stop vehicles to check whether the driver is impaired. They either stop every vehicle or stop vehicles at some consistent interval (e.g., every third or seventh vehicle). Drivers are stopped briefly and interviewed; if police suspect a driver of being impaired, additional sobriety field tests are performed.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally prohibits seizures of property (including detention of vehicles) without cause and warrantless searches, including those during traffic stops. However, because of the overwhelming effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints in promoting the public good of combatting driving while intoxicated, the U.S. Supreme Court and the state of New Jersey have determined that the stops are permissible if are conducted in a neutral or non-arbitrary manner and have limited intrusion on motorists.
What are the possible penalties of driving while impaired?
Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) carries stiff penalties in New Jersey. Drivers face significant penalties for first, second, and further offenses, including fines, loss, or suspension of license, mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device, community service, or jail time. DWI convictions can impair your driving freedom, cost a significant amount in fines and penalties, and have lasting professional implications, as well as many other collateral consequences.
You can be convicted of DWI if a blood alcohol test shows that your blood alcohol content is .08% or greater (a “per se” violation) or if a police officer testifies that he or she observed you to be visibly intoxicated (as evidenced by erratic driving, blood shot, glassy, or watery eyes, the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, and/or your admission of having consumed alcohol).
What are my rights during a New Jersey DUI/DWI stop at a scheduled checkpoint?
Some states, including New Jersey, have set out more stringent requirements than the federal government for valid DUI/DWI sobriety checkpoints. In order to be valid, a sobriety roadblock must be conducted in a manner "calculated in advance to provide the least possible intrusion into the public's freedom and sense of security." The NJ Superior Court has held that an acceptable checkpoint must be
- Established by a command or supervisory authority
- Carefully targeted to a designated area at a specified time and place
- Based on data justifying the site selection for reasons of public safety and reasonably efficacious or productive law enforcement goals
- Accompanied by adequate warnings to avoid frightening the traveling public
- Publicized in advance to deter drunken drivers from getting in cars in the first place, and
- Implementing specified neutral and courteous procedures for the checkpoint officers to follow when stopping drivers.
If you are stopped and cited at a roadblock that does not meet these criteria, you have grounds to challenge the constitutionality of your arrest citation.
What are your rights to refuse additional testing at a sobriety checkpoint?
If an officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are driving while intoxicated after questioning you at a sobriety checkpoint, he or she may ask you to undergo additional testing. This can include asking you to perform a variety of field sobriety tests and a breath test.
You cannot be forced to take a Breathalyzer test. However, New Jersey’s “implied consent” law says that by operating a motor vehicle on any public road, you effectively give your consent to provide breath samples for chemical tests to determine the content of alcohol in your blood (BAC) if an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you have been operating a motor vehicle under the influence.
Because of this, if you refuse to take one, your driver’s license will be suspended for at least seven months and up to a year. If the refusal is in connection with a second offense, your license will be revoked for at least two years. For refusals in connection with a third or subsequent offense, the revocation will be for at least ten years. Upon your refusal, you will be detained and brought to a hospital, where hospital staff will draw blood to do a BAC test. Motorists who refuse to take a breath test in New Jersey are also subject to MVC insurance surcharge of $1,000 per year for three years (which goes to a state fund). Your license will be suspended until this surcharge is paid in full.
What can you do to avoid being cited for DUI or DWI?
Law enforcement agencies participating in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over crackdown campaign offer the following advice:
- If you plan to drink, designate a driver—someone who will not drink alcohol at all—before going out.
- Take mass transit, a taxi, ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft, or ask a sober friend to drive you home.
- Spend the night where the activity is held.
- Report impaired drivers to law enforcement. In New Jersey, drivers may dial #77 to report a drunk or aggressive driver.
- If you’re intoxicated and traveling on foot, the safest way to get home is to take a cab or have a sober friend or family member drive you to your doorstep.
See the complete list of participating New Jersey towns that plan to participate in the holiday weekend sobriety checkpoints before you head out onto the roads.
If you believe that you were stopped at an improper roadblock or that your rights were violated during a sobriety or traffic stop, our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help. Contact the Mark Law Firm today for a consultation with one of our New Jersey DUI lawyers.