Roadblocks, Checkpoints and DUI Task Forces

Posted by Craig Penrod | Oct 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

Roadblocks, Checkpoints and DUI Task Forces

Drivers in the United States share certain protections given to them by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment carries with it a prohibition against 'unreasonable searches and seizures.

'It has been held, by courts across the Nation and by the Supreme Court of the United States, that a random traffic stop is an unreasonable infringement upon these rights.  It is therefore the law that a police officer cannot stop a motorist unless he has a reasonable suspicion that the driver has been or is involved in some sort of criminal or if he has probable cause to believe that the driver has committed a traffic violation.

"Reasonable Suspicion" must be based on specific and articulable facts, i.e. not just a mere hunch or feeling on the part of the police officer, along with 'reasonable inferences from those facts.'  The facts that an officer testifies to in order to establish whether he had reasonable suspicion to make a stop, when being reviewed by a court, are looked at in the light of not what the officer believed or thought, but what a reasonable person in the same situation would believe.

In other words, the actual beliefs of the officer who stopped you are irrelevant, as that officer may be paranoid, but what matters is what a reasonable person would have believed in those same circumstances.  For example, let's assume an officer stops you because you are driving down the street with your window down and your hand hanging out.  He testifies that he thought you were perhaps drying your hand because you'd obviously just drowned your wife and your hands were wet.

No reasonable person would reach that conclusion, given those facts and so there would be no reasonable suspicion for the stop, even though the officer believed you had just committed a murder. This is a ridiculous example, but cases like this do happen.

An officer can also stop you if he has probable cause to believe that you have committed a traffic violation.

Probable Cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and is derived from what this particular officer saw and observed.  The result must be a likelihood that you have committed a traffic violation, such as speeding, or running a stop sign.

There is an exception to the premise that officers need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle, however. That is in the case of the DUI roadblock or DUI checkpoint.

A police department may set up a DUI Checkpoint or DUI Roadblock under certain circumstances.  The United States Supreme Court allowed DUI checkpoints, carving out an exception to the Fourth Amendment in the cases of Michigan vs. Sitz and Ingersoll vs. Palmer.  DUI Checkpoints may be valid as long as the following factors are taken into consideration:

  • The degree of discretion left to the individual officer
  • The location chosen for the roadblock
  • The time and duration of the roadblock
  • The standards set by superior officers
  • Whether advance notice was given to the general public
  • Whether advance warning was given to approaching motorists
  • Whether police displayed adherence to recognized safety conditions
  • The length of time each motorist is stopped and detained

The above listed factors only seem to make the issue of whether a particular checkpoint is valid more complicated.  While there is no bright line rule, Craig Penrod and Simone Atkinson of the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, have extensive experience handling DUI cases and can easily analyze your particular case in order to determine whether the checkpoint you were stopped at was valid or a violation of your rights.

Should you find yourself facing a checkpoint, it's best to keep in mind the following points:

  • if an officer approaches you and asks for your license, proof of insurance and registration, you must provide those documents to him.
  • if he begins to question you, POLITELY tell him that you choose not to answer any questions as is your right under the United States Constitution.  You are not obligated in any way to provide him with answers to his questions, and doing so will only work against you both in his investigation and later in court.
  • if the officer asks to search your vehicle, tell him you do not consent to a search of your vehicle.  If he asks you to step out of the vehicle, lock it behind you and reiterate that you do not consent to a search of your vehicle.
  • if the officer searches your car anyway, do not resist.  Cooperate after noting your objections.
  • do not answer any additional questions once he begins his DUI investigation.  Ask to speak to an attorney.
  • if he asks you to perform field sobriety tests, politely decline.  These tests are voluntary and will only lead to your arrest and will furthermore aid the State in acquiring a conviction against you.• ask repeatedly and politely to speak to an attorney.
  • if you are placed under arrest, ask again to speak to an attorney, if you have not done so already.
  • if you have been placed under arrest, you are legally obligated to perform a breath, blood or urine test.  If you refuse your license may be suspended for a minimum of one year.

Once you have been placed under arrest and have taken the blood, breath or urine test, the officer will generally release you, provided you have someone willing to come pick you up.


Arizona law enforcement agencies around the State have banded together in an effort to increase saturation of certain areas they deem rife with DUIs and potential DUIs.  A DUI task force, unlike a checkpoint, has no fixed location.

Officers from several different agencies will join forces and send officers to a particular area to inundate a part of town looking for any signs of traffic violations and/or possible DUI activity.  The University area is a common example of a location where DUI Task Forces or Wolf Packs, as they are known, take place.

The number of DUI officers in a particular location however, does not violate any rights of the individual, other than being a nuisance.  Officers must still be able to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause to affect a traffic stop.  If you do find yourself victim of a wolf pack, it is generally a good idea to follow the above listed points after being pulled over, just as you would for a checkpoint.

In either case, once you are arrested for a DUI, you will need experienced and talented legal representation to try to avoid the subsequent license suspensions and DUI conviction.

The Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod have been practicing DUI defense for over 20 years and Craig is the only DUI attorney in the State to have been listed as a Super Lawyer every year since 2008.  Contact the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod immediately to schedule a free consultation so that we may evaluate your case and begin building the best defense possible.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


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