Thursday, June 16, 2011

DUI and the 4th Amendment

Information About Georgia DUI Checkpoints
Atlanta DUI Checkpoint

Typical DUI Checkpoint in Atlanta

As a well respected Atlanta DUI lawyer, I get a lot of calls about Georgia DUI Checkpoints. It seems that more and more counties around Georgia are setting up these checkpoints more frequently than ever. This creates a lot of problems for people and in the end many innocent people are arrested for a GeorgiaDUI. One of the main causes of this is over zealous police officers who have their minds made up to arrest people for DUI, misinterpreting the symptoms of a driver. For example, I recently defended a case where my client was arrested for DUI at a checkpoint outside of Atlanta because he had bloodshot eyes and looked drowsy, not from drinking but from some flu medication he was taking.
Why does Georgia Set Up DUI Checkpoints?

Supposedly, the justification of DUI checkpoints is to reduce the incidents of drunk driving in Georgia. However, it is very common for police to use DUI checkpoints to fight crime in general. In fact, Atlanta Police Commissioner George Turner recently admitted that DUI checkpoints were being used in and around Atlanta as a general crime prevention measure. This is highly unconstitutional. Under the Fourth Amendment, we are to be protected from search and seizure without probable cause. This means that if a police officer sees a group of teenagers in a car, for example, the officer cannot stop them and search for marijuana. Because having probable cause and proper warrants is cumbersome for police officers, they now use DUI checkpoints to work around the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled on this issue in The City of Indianapolis v. Edmond:

Petitioner city operates vehicle checkpoints on its roads in an effort to interdict unlawful drugs. Respondents, who were each stopped at such a checkpoint, filed suit, claiming that the roadblocks violated the Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied respondents a preliminary injunction, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the checkpoints contravened the Fourth Amendment.

Held: Because the checkpoint program’s primary purpose is indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3-15.

(a) The rule that a search or seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment absent individualized suspicion of wrongdoing has limited exceptions. For example, this Court has upheld brief, suspicionless seizures at a fixed checkpoint designed to intercept illegal aliens, United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543, and at a sobriety checkpoint aimed at removing drunk drivers from the road, Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U. S. 444. The Court has also suggested that a similar roadblock to verify drivers’ licenses and registrations would be permissible to serve a highway safety interest. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 663. However, the Court has never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing. Pp. 3-7.

Another reason why Georgia police departments set up DUI checkpoints is money. There is a great deal of federal money that is awarded to police departments to subsidized the costs of these checkpoints. Police officers are often paid overtime to work DUI checkpoints and this is good news for them. The additional arrests and citations creates more revenue for the counties as well. However, money corrupts and there have been many cases of officers, motivated by greed, arresting people on false charges. A recent example happened in New York City where police officers motivated by arrest numbers and financial benefits framed two shopkeepers on drug charges.

Furthermore, there is a great deal of politics behind DUI enforcement, especially in big cities like Atlanta. There are a number of very powerful lobbies which are pushing for harsher DUI penalties and more arrests without ensuring that the police officers are properly trained to recognize DUI. This push for more arrests may sound like great law enforcement but when you look closely at the growing number of innocent people being falsely arrested you can quickly realize the downside. Innocent people are being arrested all over Atlanta and being put through the stress, expense and humiliation of having to clear their name in court.

If you or a loved one is arrested at an Georgia DUI checkpoint, please call The Law Offices of Douglas B. Chanco, for a free consultation at 404-250-3206 with an experienced Atlanta DUI Attorney.

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