Maryland DUI checkpoints are a common tool used by law enforcement to find and arrest drunk drivers on Maryland highways. The Maryland Court of Appeals examined DUI checkpoints in Little v. State, 479 A.2d 903, 300 Md. 485 (1984) (“Little”). Below we will dissect the Little case and explain the rights drivers have when approaching and going through a DUI checkpoint in Maryland.
In 1982, Maryland State Police erected systematic roadblocks on state roads, as an effort to stop drunk driving. These sobriety checkpoints were established pursuant to a pilot program implemented in Harford County for a three-month period which was to begin on December 12, 1982. During the three-month period, the check points were erected for a total of seven days between the hours of 11p.m. and 4 a.m
In the Little case, the driver was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint on Route 24 in Harford County at 2:55a.m. where a State Trooper detected a strong odor of alcohol and observed that driver’s face was flushed red and that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. The suspected drunk driver was asked to pull onto the shoulder and to perform several field sobriety tests. The suspect was arrested after poorly performing on the tests.
Another driver was stopped at 1:50 a.m. by a State Trooper at the same checkpoint. The Trooper detected a very strong odor of alcohol and observed the driver’s eyes were bloodshot and “bugged out” and that his face was red. The suspect was also asked to pull onto the shoulder and perform several field tests. The driver exited his car, bumping into the door and ultimately failing the field test and subsequently arrested.
Both drivers were charged with driving while intoxicated and filed motions to suppress at their DUI trial all evidence obtained as a result of the roadblock stops, claiming a violation of their constitutional rights.
The question the Court had to decide was: “Did the challenged roadblocks violate the driver’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to the federal constitution and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights?”
The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard of reasonableness upon the exercise of discretion by governmental officers in order to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions. To do so, the Courts are required to balance the individuals liberty interests against the legitimate governmental interests.
Where the government’s interest outweighs an individual’s liberty interest, the action will be found constitutional and when the individual’s liberty interest outweighs the government’s interests, the action will be found unconstitutional.
As a general rule, traffic checkpoints have been upheld where:
The challenged roadblocks did not violate drivers’ constitutional rights under the fourth amendment because the States compelling interest in controlling drunk driving far outweighs the minimal intrusion on individual liberties caused by the checkpoints.
In addition, the sobriety checkpoint(s) will likely be upheld because they are operated under limitations imposed by regulations approved by high level administrators, leaving no discretion to the field officers. Those limitations are:
The procedures to be followed when communicating with the drivers is set forth in the regulations which eliminates the risk of police harassment.
The defendants in the Little case contended that sobriety checkpoints are consistent with the common law of arrest in Maryland and thus should not be upheld. Under Maryland’s common law of arrest, an officer has no authority to arrest someone without a warrant unless a misdemeanor has been committed in front of the officer or there is probable cause to believe that the arrestee has committed a felony. More specifically, the Court defined an arrest as having occurred once an individual has been detained for prosecution of a crime and such act subjects him to the actual control and will of the person making the arrest.
Both drivers in the Little case were stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in an effort to stop drunk driving. Neither appellant was a suspect in a criminal matter, therefore they were not being detained or seized for prosecution. In fact, both drivers were free make a U-turn and avoid the sobriety checkpoint, or if they did stop, they had the right to refuse to roll down their window and at that point could proceed through the checkpoint. At no point was either driver detained or subject to the control and will of the officers, and therefore is not grievous or oppressive and is not a violation of Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
If you have been the subject of a DUI checkpoint in Maryland, contact a DUI lawyer as soon as possible. A DUI can drastically affect your employment and privilege to drive in Maryland. A DUI lawyer will prepare a defense to your case and argue to reduce the penalty for your drunk driving arrest.