Some law enforcement agencies use Roadblocks – a.k.a. Sobriety Checkpoints – to try to remove impaired drivers from the road. Many police departments have abandoned Roadblocks and instead assign extra officers to patrol in order to catch more impaired drivers because these so-called saturation patrols are more effective in catching impaired drivers. It is still important, however, to know how a Roadblock works and what is expected and required of any motorist driving through the area.
First, the police are required to conduct themselves in certain ways both when setting up no executing a Roadblock. The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Michigan v. Sitz, determined that Roadblocks can be constitutional if certain factors are met. These factors are not something that as a passing motorist you will be able to discern, but they are something that an experienced attorney will know about and you should ask any potential attorney about these factors should you get charged with a crime as a result of a Roadblock.
Second, the officers interaction with each car should be brief and to the point. Common questions that you will be asked at a Roadblock are “where are you coming from?” and “have you been drinking?” You are not under any obligation to answer these questions. However, should you chose to answer them you should be honest.
If you have consumed alcohol and the officer smells it, but you tell them you haven’t touched the stuff you credibility with the officer, and with a prosecutor, judge, and jury, has gone right out the window. The officer is attempting to find indications of impairment with the substance of these questions and during their interaction with you. The officer is trained to look for bloodshot eyes, glassy eyes, slurred speech, answers that do not follow the substance of the question asked, etc.
Third, in order to pull a motorist out of the lane of travel for further investigation, i.e. to conduct field sobriety tests, police must have an indication that the driver is impaired. Without that a motorist cannot be detained at a Roadblock beyond the brief initial interaction with the police officer. Maine law is clear on this point. Maine law is also clear that it doesn’t take much to reach this threshold.
For example, speeding 10 miles per hour over the limit coming up to the Roadblock, the motorist rolling down the window only a quarter of the way, and an admission to drinking was enough indication of impairment to justify further detention of the motorist and investigation.
Conversely, in a case I handled recently where a motorist only rolled their window partially down and refused to answer the officer’s questions a judge determined there was no indication of impairment to justify further detention of the motorist and further investigation. As a result of the judge’s decision the case was dismissed.
The bottom line with a Roadblock is that you should treat it like any other interaction in an OUI investigation with the police. If you are unsure what to do when interacting with the police check out what Attorney Matt Nichols says in his blog How to Conduct Yourself During an OUI Investigation.