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In the state of Rhode Island, DUI checkpoints are legal. These stops, also known as “mobile checkpoints” or “roadblocks” are traffic stops not instigated by individual suspicions. While the locations of the roadblocks are supposed to be random, you can check where and when they are active on sites including Roadblock.org and DUIblock.com.
Police briefly detain and interview drivers going through the checkpoint to identify those suspected of drinking and driving. Often, police set up these checkpoints on holiday weekends when people are more likely to drive while intoxicated. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates these roadblocks prevent almost 1 out of 10 deaths resulting from drinking and driving.
Technically, the Constitution states an officer of the law must have probable cause to conduct a traffic stop. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the “degree of intrusion” resulting from sobriety checkpoints does not exceed the danger drunk drivers pose on the road. Therefore, DUI checkpoints are an exception to search and seizure provisions outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The National Highway Safety Transportation Board created guidelines for officers when conducting these sobriety roadblocks. Additionally, the state of Rhode Island has guidelines that police officers must follow. One of the provisions for these checkpoints is the advertisement of checkpoint locations ahead of time.
Every checkpoint must operate according to a plan defined ahead of time. It is illegal to target specific vehicles to stop at a checkpoint. In fact, even selecting cars “at random” is unconstitutional. If the officers are operating the checkpoint practice with any discretion regarding which vehicles they stop, the sobriety checkpoint breaches the constitutional rights of the drivers. In this case, the sobriety checkpoint is invalid.
There are certain guidelines that police must follow when deciding who to check. These guidelines come from previous DUI cases. The state must adhere to these guidelines while conducting DUI checkpoints:
Once stopped at a Rhode Island DUI checkpoint, the driver speaks to the screening officer who will detail the process. Next, the officer searches for signs of inebriation. These signs include:
If the driver raises suspicion, the police officer may direct them to a secondary screening to determine whether or not a DUI is in order.
If the police do not follow the guidelines the state of Rhode Island created for DUI checkpoints, the law places the burden on the prosecutor to prove the police acted by the laws. The police officer has a requirement to follow the letter of the law or the stop-and-search is unconstitutional. Furthermore, if the prosecutor cannot prove the seizure was legal, the judge may dismiss the case in the court of law.