DWI Roadblocks/Checkpoints

In order for a DWI checkpoint to be found constitutional it must be reasonable in its design, set-up and operation. When used appropriately, a DWI checkpoint can act as a substitute for an officer‘s reasonable suspicion when deciding to pull a driver over. In order for a DWI checkpoint to pass constitutional muster the checkpoint cannot invade an individual‘s reasonable expectation of privacy.

The New Mexico Supreme Court set forth guideline to be considered by a court when determining the reasonableness of a checkpoint. City of Las Cruces v. Betancourt, 105 N.M. 655, 658 (1987).  The first two are the most important and really the only basis for finding a DWI checkpoint defective.

  1. Supervisory personnel must approve the site of the checkpoint and the specific procedures to be followed.
  2. The officers conducting the checkpoint must have very little, or no discretion in regard to the procedures to be followed so that all drivers are dealt with in exactly the same way.
  3. Safety measures must be in place to protect the officers and the public. This would include proper lighting and directional signals, safety vests, and safety planning for the location of the checkpoint.
  4. The location of the checkpoint must be reasonable and safe. The checkpoint may not be placed to a target a specific population.
  5. The time of the checkpoint must be reasonable. It should not be timed so that it will disrupt a large amount of traffic.
  6. The reason for the checkpoint must be apparent. The officers must be in a uniform, there must be signs posted and there must be marked cars present at the checkpoint.
  7. Motorist should not be held at the checkpoint for an unreasonably long period of time.
  8. There should be advanced notice of the checkpoint. Advising drivers of the general area of the checkpoint is sufficient. It is not necessary to state the exact location of the checkpoint.

When considering the constitutionality of a checkpoint a court must consider each of the eight guidelines.   However, as stated, the only guidelines that must be satisfied to uphold the roadblock are numbers 1 and 2 above. There must be supervisory authority and restriction of the discretion of the line officers.

The duty of at least one of the officers at every checkpoint is to watch for drivers that attempt to avoid the checkpoint and stop those drivers. The New Mexico Supreme Court has previously held that once a driver is within the signed area notifying him or her of the checkpoint that an officer has a reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle if the driver turns away.

The fact that the driver turned away, however, is not in and of itself sufficient to prove that the driver was attempting to avoid the checkpoint.  However, as held in the New Mexico Supreme Court case of State v. Anaya, evasion of a checkpoint may be a proper basis for an investigatory stop.  An investigatory stop may indeed turn into a DWI investigation, arrest and conviction which is exactly what happened in Anaya.

Successful DWI roadblock challenges are fairly rare.  However, it is not unheard of that the roadblocks do not meet the requirements of Betancourt.  It is important to discuss all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the roadblock with an experienced criminal law attorney.  In the event that the roadblock is found defective, there is a very good chance that all evidence of the DWI investigation will be suppressed and the case will be dismissed.

Aditional Reading on New Mexico DWI Issues from our DWI Blog

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