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Dealing with DWI Checkpoints - The constitutionality of DWI sobriety checkpoints and roadblocks has become a contested issue across the nation. Currently, 38 states allow DWI sobriety checkpoints while 12 states do not. Texas is one of the twelve states which do not allow DWI sobriety checkpoints; although these DWI checkpoints are not specifically outlawed under Texas statute, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 1991 that DWI sobriety checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Texas citizens, therefore were unconstitutional. The issue is whether a driver’s right against unreasonable search and seizure has been violated by a DWI checkpoint, and, in fact, an experienced Houston DWI attorney can likely have your DWI arrest dismissed if the arrest was based on a DWI checkpoint.
Because Texas DWI checkpoints have not specifically been outlawed in the state of Texas under statute, it is possible to run into a DWI checkpoint—a place where one or more law enforcement officers are stationed, stopping certain vehicles based on a numeric value, like every third vehicle. If you have been arrested for a DUI offense in Texas, or if you suspect your Texas DWI arrest was the result of a more “covert” DWI checkpoint, it is important that you contact an experienced Houston DWI lawyer as soon as possible. As a point of much heated debate among Texas lawmakers and lobbyists, the 1991 ruling stated that DWI checkpoints were only legal if the Texas Legislature established guidelines for these checkpoints. While no guidelines have yet been set by the Legislature, that could always change. While there may not be guidelines set, law enforcement continues to try to set up DWI checkpoints in high traffic areas or during certain holidays.
Supreme Court Cases Regarding DWI Checkpoints - In the case of Brown v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court established a three-prong test to determine whether a DWI checkpoint was constitutional. The case involved a man who was actually walking, when he saw the DWI roadblock and turned and walked in the opposite direction. The police immediately suspected the man might be doing something illicit since he chose not to continue walking through the DWI roadblock. The police approached Robert Brown, asking him why he was in the area, and asking him to identify himself. Brown refused on the grounds that he was not violating any laws, therefore the officer had no right to detain him.
Brown was then “frisked” by the police officer, who found nothing, yet arrested Robert Brown anyway. The Supreme Court voted in favor of Robert Brown, stating all lawful stops must past the “three-prong” test, meaning that DWI checkpoints:
- Must be in the best interests of the State as a method of decreasing drunk driving accidents;
- Must achieve that goal, and
- Must not be intrusive to the privacy of an individual driver.
Another Supreme Court case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz centered around several drivers in Saginaw County, Michigan being detained, with one arrested for drunk driving after a DWI checkpoint was put into place. In this case, the Supreme Court found the charges to be permissible because the roadblock detention was equal to a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment, and that the roadblock detention passed the three-prong test set forth in Brown v. Texas.
The most recent case in the state of Texas was Holt v. State which was heard in the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals. After passing through an Arlington DWI checkpoint, Regina Holt was detained and charged with DWI. Holt’s attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence secured at the checkpoint claiming it violated Holt’s Fourth Amendment rights. Holt further claimed that the lack of Texas legislative action regarding DWI checkpoints made her stop unconstitutional. Since no legislative guidelines exist, the Court of Appeals ruled it was unconstitutional in the state of Texas to stop a driver at a DWI checkpoint.
Differences Between a DWI Roadblock and a DWI Checkpoint - There are certain differences between a DWI checkpoint and a DWI roadblock. A DWI roadblock occurs when law enforcement deliberately blocks off a street, stopping each driver to determine whether the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A DWI checkpoint can be much more discreet, with several police officers stationed at a busy street or intersection. These officers may stop certain vehicles, based on their own observations or subjective discretion, to determine whether the driver has been drinking or is under the influence of drugs. Therefore, while you are unlikely to see a DWI roadblock in the state of Texas, you conceivably find yourself in a DWI checkpoint.
How a Sullo & Sullo Houston DWI Attorney Can Help - As stated, while sobriety checkpoints are not lawful in the state of Texas, this does not mean officers do not sometimes set up “covert” checkpoints, meaning you could have been pulled over with no reasonable cause or probable suspicion. If you have been charged with a DWI at what you believe to be a sobriety checkpoint, you must act quickly, contacting an experienced Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal defense attorney. Our goal, once you contact us, is to do our best to minimize the consequences from your DWI charges.
If your stop was illegal or unconstitutional, we will work to have the charges dismissed. Our significant experience and willingness to deploy every resource at our disposal to fight for your rights and your future makes Sullo & Sullo the Houston DWI lawyers to call. We will work hard on your behalf to ensure you are not sentenced to Harris County jail and that you do not have a Harris County criminal record which follows you for many years to come.
Contact a knowledgeable Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal defense attorney today. We will work with you as far as payment plans and will offer a comprehensive consultation where we will thoroughly answer all your questions. We understand what a difficult time this is for you, and how anxious you are about your future. We believe we can help alleviate much of that anxiety as we offer an aggressive defense for your DWI in Texas charges.