Checkpoints & Frequency of Stopping Traffic


The United States Supreme Court "constitutionalized" Sobriety Checkpoints in 1993 -- the same year I graduated from law school. When I read the decision in Sitz, I thought there would be no way any police department could meet all the factors that were required to make the checkpoints constitional.

Here we are. Almost 20 years later and checkpoints are more common, smaller, and rarely meeting all the Sitz factors. But, as long as the police say the right words at a suppression hearing, it appears as though these colossal wastes of money and manpower are going to continue.

Take for example the case of Karen Park. Karen was minding her own business, perhaps a little too well, when she drove into and through a checkpoint in Licking County, Ohio. As expected, she was chased down, detained, tested, and arrested.

Her lawyer challenged one of the funky things about this particular checkpoint. For some reason, the troopers who ran this checkpoint, were not too concerned about one of the factors required in Sitz. That factor being "a predetermination by policy making administrative officers of the roadblock location, time, and procedures to be employed, pursuant to carefully formulated standards and neutral criteria." The court cited State v. Goines (1984), 16 Ohio App.3d 168 which cited an Iowa case from the year Jimmy Carter became president. For some reason there is no mention of Sitz and all of its criteria in this case.

In any event, one thing I do remember from Sitz in 1993 was that checkpoitns are supposed to be as discretion-less as possible. In other words, the cops can't make the rules up as they go. Thankfully, the troopers in Licking County didn't make up the rules as they went along. . .

Apparently the Ohio State Patrol does not have any written procedure as to the frequency of vehicles to be stopped (i.e. every 4th car, every 3rd car, etc.). The testimony of Lt. Blosser (the policy making administrative officer) who was on the scene, was stopping every other car at 10:15, a mere 22 minutes later he decided to start checking every single car going westbound, and 13 minutes after that he ordered the checkpoint to head over to the other side of the road and check every car going eastbound.

The troopers testimony clearly showed he made quite a few audibles. That's a no no. Also, words like "carefully formulated standards and neutral criteria" were far from present in Ms. Park's case. How in the world the 5th District found this checkpoint to be constitutional is beyond me.

The legality of DUI checkpoints has long been debated. Law enforcement officials believe highly publicized DUI checkpoints will serve as a deterrent to drunk driving and inevitably lead to fewer intoxicated drivers on Columbus roads. Attorney Brad Koffel told the media that the DUI checkpoints will cost the city financially and are not guaranteed to stop drunk drivers. Even though DUI checkpoints are paid for by grant money, Koffel argues that grant money is still essentially taxpayer money and should not be wasted on something that has not been proven effective to stop drunk driving.