Tampa DUI Attorney- DUI Checkpoint and Roadblock Cases

Driving under the influence (DUI) cases that occurred after a vehicle is stopped in a DUI roadblock or DUI checkpoint are the most scrutinized types of stops under the Fourth Amendment. In many of these cases, if the DUI attorney properly files and litigates a motion to suppress then the State's entire case can be thrown out.

The Florida Second District Court of Appeals recently reversed such a conviction in Guy v. State, _ So.2d_, 2008 WL 4276326 (Fla. 2d 2008). In this case the defendant appealed his conviction after the court denied his motion to suppress. The evidence at the motion to suppress hearing showed that the defendant was stopped by sheriff's officers who were conducting a Florida DUI sobriety checkpoint. After the stop, the defendant was arrested for driving on a suspended license as a habitual traffic offender, a felony offense punishable by five years in prison. On the day he was arrested he was also on probation for the charge of felony driving under the influence (DUI) with serious bodily injury. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and the defendant entered a guilty plea to both of his pending cases- DWLS while HTO and Violation of Felony DUI Probation under Florida law. (The defendant entered the plea but reserved the right to appeal the court's denial of his motion to suppress).

The Second District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, and sent the case back to the trial court with instructions to reverse the Felony Suspended License conviction, and reinstate the defendant on the Felony DUI probation. The Guy court recognized the long line of Florida cases dealing with the constitutionality of DUI roadblocks or checkpoints including two Florida Supreme Court cases on the subject: State v. Jones, 483 So.2d 433 (Fla. 1986) and Campbell v. State, 679 So.2d 1168 (Fla. 1996).

In those cases, the Supreme Court of Florida found that before law enforcement officers can set up a DUI sobriety roadblock or DUI checkpoint they must issue a written set of guidelines that detail in advance all of the procedures to be used during the checkpoint. The rationale behind this requirement is that field officers on the scene of the roadblock should not be able to make judgment calls about which vehicles to stop while allowing other vehicles to pass through undisturbed. If field officers had such decision making power they could use that power to stop only older model vehicles, or stop only vehicle with drivers of some ethnic minority, or stop only vehicle with young male drivers.

The Constitution of the United States protects against such intrusions without probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. In roadblock cases, the officers do not have legal cause normally required, but such stops are allowed only when strict compliance with pre-determined rules are followed.

The pre-determined rules must limit the decision making ability of individual officers on the scene to select which vehicles to stop. Even in those cases in which the guidelines are properly issued, the field officers that operate the DUI checkpoint must faithfully follow those written guidelines.

In the Guy case the written guidelines called for stopping every vehicle, but allowed the field officer supervisor to come up with a contingency plan if traffic backed up, such as allowing all vehicles to pass through or stopping every other vehicle or every third vehicle as traffic permitted. The Guy court found that this plan left too much discretion to officers in the field. The Guy court also found that the evidence at the suppression hearing showed that the officers did not comply with the flawed plan that had been issued because the officers considered the guidelines "fluid" and subject to modification as required on the scene. For instance, the officers ended the roadblock checkpoint early for a reason not contemplated by the written DUI checkpoint plan.

This DUI checkpoint case is important because it reiterates the scrutiny that must accompany any DUI checkpoint or roadblock case. Defending a DUI checkpoint or DUI roadblock case requires a complete investigation into every aspect of the roadblock, careful analysis of the written DUI checkpoint plan and guidelines, and the skillful cross-examination of the officers to show every mistake made by law enforcement in creating or following that plan. If you have been arrested for DUI, driving while license suspended, or any other offense after a roadblock stop, contact an experienced Tampa DUI attorney to discuss your case.