Join the club…since 2013, September has consistently been one of the busiest sobriety checkpoint months in Tennessee. For many years, the Supreme Court went back and forth as to whether sobriety checkpoints were legal. Fizer Bonding Company remembers that in the early 1990s, the Supremes did what they often do. They compromised and said sobriety checkpoints were legal as long as they followed certain requirements. Fizer Bonding Company has also been providing DUI bail bonds in Montgomery and Robertson counties for over 30 years. More on the check point requirements below.
Before we talk about what officers can and can’t do at checkpoints, we should talk about respect for individual rights at these roadblocks. Basically, checkpoints suspend the Fourth Amendment’s rules regarding a law enforcement stop. However, they don’t affect your Fifth Amendment rights. Drivers must show their licenses and proof of insurance. They must also obey basic commands, like “stop here” and “move forward.” However, motorists don’t have to answer any questions. In fact, they don’t have to roll down their windows. But, we certainly do understand that peace officers may not take kindly to this.
If officers don’t follow the rules, a lawyer can overturn the stop, and therefore the arrest, when the case goes to court. However, even if they break these rules, peace officers can still arrest people for DUI and book them into the Clarksville jail. Bond is usually rather high in these cases so contacting Fizer Bonding Company to get the best price is important (typically cost is only a 10% premium of the bond amount). Drunk drivers present a substantial danger to the public, especially as far as law enforcement officials are concerned. Regardless of the amount, Fizer Bonding Company, a Montgomery County bail bonds agency, can usually secure your pretrial release.
Montgomery County DUI checkpoint authorization must come from both Nashville and Clarksville.
As mentioned, state legislatures must pass laws allowing sobriety checkpoints. Most states, including Tennessee, have done so. However, no state has amended its constitution or otherwise made a permanent checkpoint provision. So, at least theoretically, the legislature could revoke this authorization at any time.
Specific authorization, including operational details, must come from a local elected official, like a county sheriff, or a high-level bureaucrat, like a police chief. The idea is that the authorizing person must be directly accountable to voters, or at least very close to that level.
No Officer Discretion
Basically, a high-level supervisor fills out the check and the legislature signs it. We realize this analogy went completely over the heads of anyone born after 2000.
Officers who run a checkpoint cannot have any input into its operational details. If Officer Tom emails the chief and suggests the department blow some grant money on a Labor Day sobriety checkpoint, that’s probably okay. If Officer Tom suggests the checkpoint be somewhere on Wilma Rudolph Boulevard, that’s probably illegal.
Speaking of grants, this money funds pretty much all DUI checkpoints. Roadblocks are very expensive. So, most departments cannot afford to set them up on their own. When someone else pays the bill, there’s a natural tendency to produce results. More on that below.
If a law enforcement agency breaks a checkpoint rule, it’s often this one. Some agencies skip pre-checkpoint publicity altogether. More frequently, they do the minimum. In this situation, the minimum won’t cut it.
Pre-checkpoint publicity must allow motorists to avoid the area altogether if they want. A post on a Twitter or Facebook account may not sufficiently publicize the checkpoint, because let’s face it, not many people follow the cops on social media. A press release might do the trick (but who watches TV or listens to the radio anymore). If no media outlets pick up the story, that’s not the law enforcement agency’s fault.
On a related note, Tennesseans can technically make U-turns at checkpoints. However, these individuals often end up as Clarksville jail inmates. Frequently, officers claim the U-turn was unsafe and immediately pull over these motorists. Other times, officers shadow these motorists for a few blocks until they inevitably commit another traffic violation.
Required DUI checkpoint safety precautions usually include, at a minimum, traffic cones, signs, and lights.
Generally, officers must deploy traffic cones or similar barriers about 1,000 feet in front of the checkpoint itself. These cones encourage motorists to slow down and be ready to stop.
Signs, which should be deployed almost as early as traffic cones, should indicate the purpose of the stop (DUI Roadblock Ahead) and give general instructions (Be Prepared to Stop and Have Drivers’ License and Proof of Insurance Ready).
Checkpoint lighting should be almost as bright as those annoying LED headlights. This lighting is more for officer safety than motorist safety. After all, police officers are people too and need to be kept safe and secure in the middle of moving traffic.
We mentioned that on-scene officers can have no input into operational details. That’s not exactly true. To keep traffic flowing, officers can switch from one neutral formula to another one (e.g. from stopping every third vehicle to stopping every fifth vehicle).
The neutral formula is key. Officers cannot wave some cars through and scrutinize others. Furthermore, officers must behave the same way with all motorists. They cannot give some a quick check and give others the third degree.
Minimal Detention Time
Many of these checkpoint rules are somewhat subjective. This one is really subjective. It’s also really important.
We discussed detention time at stops above. Officers must keep it short and sweet. This rule also applies to overall detention. As a rule of thumb, a wait time longer than about thirty seconds is unreasonably long. That’s why officers can change the neutral formula on the fly to keep traffic moving.
All checkpoint rules apply to setup and operation except this one. DUI checkpoints are for DUIs. Inevitably, officers will make some non-DUI arrests. If they see a Glock on the passenger seat, they don’t have to ignore it. However, if the checkpoint results in more non-DUI arrests than DUI arrests, then maybe something has gone wrong. If you were arrested for any reason and booked into a Montgomery County jail, call the professionals at Fizer Bonding Company. Our family owned company has served Montgomery and Robertson counties for over 30 years and knows how to treat you right and “get your tail outta jail” FAST! More value added FREE information can be found in our online articles. Fizer Bonding Company is a proud member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents.
“We’ll get your tail outta jail!”
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