Why do NJ police warn us about DWI checkpoints?
Roadside sobriety checkpoints are not all about the element of surprise in New Jersey.
In fact, police need to notify the public when they plan to create a detour and check drivers for signs of impairment.
So the next time you get frustrated by a newspaper or social media announcement about an upcoming checkpoint, keep in mind that officials are just doing their job — and they may be keeping one or more would-be offenders off the road.
Are DWI checkpoints legal?
Not all states permit these checkpoints, but federal law states that they are legal.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court (Michigan v. Sitz) upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints, according to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. It ruled that the benefits of reducing impaired driving were enough to protect law enforcement in relation to the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But strict rules were laid out by the courts in order to render a checkpoint legitimate should one argue that their arrest, or even the brief interruption of their road trip, was unlawful.
"One of the rules that we have to follow is that we have to put out the prior announcement of it," said Michael Schneider, police chief for Allenhurst and coordinator of the Monmouth County DWI Task Force.
That's why you'll see locations and times published in media reports or on police websites.
By law, the checkpoints also must be highly visible to motorists. And when vehicles move through the roadblocks, police are not supposed to choose drivers at random for interrogation.
Can I get arrested during a DWI checkpoint?
Schneider said the goal is not to arrest as many people as possible, and the advance notification is supposed to act as a deterrent.
"Our goal is just to not have the person drive under the influence in the first place," Schneider said.
In most cases, a driver's interaction with law enforcement during a DWI checkpoint is extremely brief.
But police at checkpoints still spot motorists who appear to warrant more than a brief interaction, and send them to a secondary stop where sobriety tests may occur, or a breathalyzer test is performed.
There is no law requiring that motorists take a field sobriety test. But a person can be charged for refusing a breath test.
"We've had checkpoints where we've made contact with 1,200 cars and nobody gets arrested. And to me, that night is just as successful as the night where we arrest seven people, because that means 1,200 people all made the right decision," Schneider said.
Responding to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the New Jersey State Police said highly visible and properly advertised checkpoints serve as deterrents and cause drivers to think twice before driving impaired.