John Coddington House, 2 Marlborough St., Newport, RI 02840-2516

"In Rhode Island, Drunk Driving, DUI, DWI, Sobriety Checkpoints are unconstitutional."

In Rhode Island, Drunk Driving, DUI, DWI, Sobriety Checkpoints are unconstitutional; however in other states across the country, and pursuant to Federal Law, these drunk driving reduction tools are constitutionally permissible. It will not be long before our Rhode Island Supreme Court revisits this issue in a manner more analogous with the majority of U.S. jurisdictions. The following examples illuminate the issues surrounding Rhode Island DUI, DWI, and Drunk Driving checkpoints.
In Rhode Island, Drunk Driving, DUI, DWI, Sobriety Checkpoints are unconstitutional; however in other states across the country, and pursuant to Federal Law, these drunk driving reduction tools are constitutionally permissible. It will not be long before our Rhode Island Supreme Court revisits this issue in a manner more analogous with the majority of U.S. jurisdictions. The following examples illuminate the issues surrounding Rhode Island DUI, DWI, and Drunk Driving checkpoints.

In one case, the interference with individual liberty at county sobriety checkpoints was minimal, in determining whether checkpoints were reasonable under Fourth Amendment; average checkpoint stop lasted 30 seconds or less, questioning was designed to reveal signs of intoxication, and only quick visual safety inspections were performed. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 4. Brouhard v. Lee, 125 F.3d 656 (8th Cir. 1997).

The commonwealth's compliance with DWI roadblock guidelines was not adequate, where only evidence of prior alcohol related incidents at site selected for roadblock was two years old and results of two recent roadblocks in same area were not offered in evidence. Commonwealth v. Donnelly (1993) 34 Mass App 953, 614 NE2d 1018, summary op at (Mass App) 21 M.L.W. 2936.

Roadblock stop of motor vehicles to detect drunk drivers did not meet strict guidelines regarding site selection where evidence to support choice of site described arrests two years earlier and did not include statistics of more recent arrests, nor breath test results, which would support site selection based on prior alcohol-related incidents. Commonwealth v. Donnelly (1993) 34 Mass App 953, 614 NE2d 1018, summary op at (Mass App) 21 M.L.W. 2936.

Sobriety checkpoint roadblock at which defendant was stopped violated search and seizure clause, even if officers conducting roadblock performed their duties in good faith and with professional competence, where chief of police did not promulgate plan for officers to follow and by which officer's actions could be objectively measured and directives given by officer for roadblock did not contain explicit and neutral limitations on conduct of operating personnel. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 4. People v. Richmond, 662 N.Y.S.2d 998 (County Ct. 1997).

Sobriety checkpoint was unconstitutional in the manner of selecting its location, and thus chemical test of motorist stopped there was required to be suppressed; although officer testified as to the number of alcohol-related accidents on that particular highway in county and the number in the municipality near which the checkpoint was located, he never testified as to the number of alcohol-related accidents or arrests in the specific location of the checkpoint. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 4; Const. Art. 1, § 8. Com. v. Blee, 695 A.2d 802 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997).

Affidavit did not show that officer had probable cause to detain driver for purpose of administering field sobriety tests after officer stopped driver for speeding, and thus driver's license could not be suspended for refusing request of officer to submit to taking of specimen; affidavit was completely silent on any causal connection between initial stop and subsequent field sobriety tests. U.S.C.A. Const.Amend. 4; V.T.C.A., Transportation Code § 724.035. Texas Dept. of Public Safety v. Rodriguez, 953 S.W.2d 362 (Tex. App. Austin 1997).

As can be seen, DUI, DWI checkpoints are only constitutionally permissible if they conform to limitations vis a vis manner and execution. Coming soon to Rhode Island…