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Court Says Local Traffic Checkpoint Unconstitutional: Erie DUI Evidence Tossed

April 04, 2010 | Posted in DUI

On March 24, 2010, an Erie judge ruled that a “traffic safety checkpoint” set up on State Route 20 in Millcreek Township, PA was unconstitutional because the time of day when the roadblock occurred was selected improperly. As a result, none of the evidence from a DUI arrest (including BAC results) can be used against an allegedly intoxicated motorist who was stopped at the roadblock.

The Court relied upon precedent established by our appellate courts, which requires the decision about when and where to set up a roadblock to be based upon empirical data. For example, traffic volume, traffic tickets, DUI arrests, or PennDOT accident statistics must be considered when choosing the time and location of a checkpoint.

In a four-page opinion, the Court summarized the rules that police must follow when setting up a roadblock as follows:

“The Tarbert case and its progeny speak repeatedly of data driven decisions. Accordingly, the Court expected to find some analysis of data in selecting this roadblock: traffic volume, traffic tickets, DUI arrests, and PennDOT accident statistics might have been consulted. Certainly, the township engineer has data on traffic flow and volume. The police have data on tickets and arrests, and PennDOT has accident data. Judging from the hearing testimony, none of this data was consulted in formulating this roadblock. At the hearing, the only justification offered was the intoned mantra that there was a prior successful roadblock at the same location almost a year earlier.”

Opinion, at page 3.

The Court concluded that the arbitrary selection of the time for the roadblock was “fatal to its constitutionality.” As a result, all evidence seized from the motorist charged with DUI, including the breath test results and any other indicators of intoxication, were suppressed. The effect of the decision means that no evidence obtained at the roadblock can be used against this particular motorist.

This case underscores the role our constitutions (both federal and state) play in the evaluation of DUI cases. This case also speaks to the importance of a thorough investigation of all possible defenses. Credit in this particular case goes to an excellent lawyer and friend, Paul Susko.

A lawyer with experience defending the freedom of people facing DUI allegations should be able to explain the constitutional implications of motor vehicle stops. As this opinion makes clear, what might appear to be a “routine” arrest for DUI and other offenses may not pass constitutional muster.

Tim George has been a lawyer since 1992. He defends the freedom of people accused of criminal offenses and DUI in Erie and through northwestern Pennsylvania. For more information, you may schedule a free office consultation by calling toll free (866) 794-2525.

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