Roadblocks and DUI in Oklahoma

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Roadblocks, also known as highway checkpoints and driver’s license checkpoints, are a method that the police in Oklahoma and across America use to catch people who are driving under the influence. The police will set up on a given road, and will stop and speak to the driver of any car or truck that comes through. They are able to ask anyone they are suspicious of to step out of their vehicle and complete field sobriety tests or a preliminary breath test. They may even have a van present with an Intoxilyzer set up to take a breath sample.

Checkpoints and High Profile Cases

Checkpoints or roadblocks set up for general crime deterrence are a violation of the fourth amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizures. In Illinois v. Lidster, the Unites States Supreme Court held that a “search or seizure is ordinarily unreasonable in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing."

However, the Supreme Court went on to explain that there were recognized exceptions to the "individualized suspicion" requirement. These exceptions included: (1) brief, suspicionless seizures of motorists at a fixed Border Patrol checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens; (2) sobriety checkpoints aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road; and (3) checkpoints with the purpose of verifying drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations. 

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals looked at this issue in Lookingbill v. State in which they held that officers, operating in certain parameters, can establish checkpoints to ensure that drivers are licensed and operating safe vehicles.

The Court was concerned that this power could be abused as just the operation of a car gives the officers the power to stop and detain drivers without a warrant or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The careless use of that power comes with great potential for abuse and even greater potential for the appearance of abuse in the eyes of the detained driver.  Thus, the Court held that a checkpoint must be planned and carried out within the narrow constitutional parameters and it is neither too onerous a burden on law enforcement nor unreasonable for the law to require specific showings of fact before a challenged checkpoint seizure will be upheld.

The Oklahoma Court explained that to be constitutional, the vehicle checkpoint must meet three overarching standards: (1) the operation must be rationally related to the stated public purpose; (2) the operation must be carried out in accordance with agency guidelines limiting officer discretion and assuring all motorists are treated equally; and (3) the operation must be planned and carried out in a manner that minimizes invasion of motorist privacy. 

When looking at these standards, there are specific factors to be considered in determining if those standards are met include: (1) the stated purpose of the operation; (2) the approval of superior officers; (3) the degree of compliance with the established agency standards; (4) the time, location, and duration of the checkpoint; (5) the steps taken to inform motorists of the reason for the stop; and (6) the duration of the individual stop.

The Court also held that all agencies conducting vehicle checkpoints should have written policies and standards for the conduct of the checkpoint operations and policies to ensure compliance with the policies and standards.

Know Your Rights

The police have the right to stop your car, but it is important that you understand your legal rights in this scenario. While you should be respectful, you do not need to give detailed answers to any of their questions. In fact, it is legally advisable that you say as little as possible as anything you say can create potential pitfalls.

It is perfectly legal to turn around and avoid a roadblock. Avoiding a checkpoint does not give the police probable cause to pull you over. However, the police will look for a reason to pull you over or attempt to argue that the U-turn was illegal. You are also able to refuse any field sobriety tests.

Although the Court held that Driver’s license checkpoints are legal, they also held that in all cases where there is a challenge to the constitutionally of the checkpoint, the prosecution must introduce the written standards of compliance for checkpoints and must show they were complied with.

Get the Legal Help You Need

If you are facing a DUI charge, you need professional legal advice. A DUI conviction—even a first offense—will have serious implications on the rest of your life.

The Hunsucker Legal Group is experienced with DUI law, and can help build a strong defense. Whether you were detained by a roadblock or pulled over, it is important that you get professional legal help as soon as possible.

Fill out a case evaluation online today or call 405-231-5600 to get your free initial consultation.

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