By: Webb Law Intern Ronahn Clarke
OUI roadblocks are checkpoints where police officers stop every vehicle—or a certain number of vehicles at random—to search for intoxicated drivers. They appear more frequently around holidays.
Are OUI Roadblocks Constitutional?
You may have heard that the police must have reasonable and individual suspicion to pull you over while you are driving. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that OUI roadblocks are an exception to this legal principle. Prevailing legal opinion is that OUI roadblocks greatly serve public interest while minimally invading the privacy of drivers. Law enforcement attempts to conduct OUI checkpoints consistent with this description so that any arrests performed at checkpoints can lead to convictions in court.
Law enforcement is allowed to conduct brief stops where officers ask you a few questions to determine your level of impairment. The officer does not automatically have the right to ask you to pull over to the side of the road to conduct further questioning or submit to sobriety tests. The officer also does not automatically have the right to investigate you or search your vehicle for unrelated criminal activity such as the possession of illegal substances. The officer can gain the right to conduct these searches and detain you if your behavior provides them with reasonable suspicion.
What are the Legal Requirements for Roadblocks?
OUI roadblocks must be reasonable in both planning and execution. Law enforcement should be prepared to explain how conducting an OUI roadblock at the chosen location served public interest (e.g. drunk driving arrests or collisions are common on that route). Officers are not permitted to arbitrarily select which vehicles to stop at an OUI roadblock. Selection must follow a previously set plan (e.g. every fifth vehicle). These requirements help reduce the possibility for officers to discriminate against drivers for their appearance or the condition of their vehicle.
Supreme Court guidance says that unannounced searches are more intrusive and inflict more discomfort on drivers. Police departments usually announce the times and locations of OUI roadblocks in newspapers or on social media. OUI roadblocks serve not just to apprehend intoxicated drivers but to promote public awareness and discourage intoxicated driving. You might think twice about operating under the influence if you know there are OUI checkpoints near your home. Announcing OUI roadblocks increases their preventative effect and reduces the intrusiveness of the stop.
Can I Turn Around Before an OUI Roadblock?
You can in the state of Maine. Our Supreme Judicial Court has found that it is unreasonable—and therefore illegal—for an officer to pull a car over for the sole reason that the driver turned around before a roadblock. This behavior alone does not provide the reasonable suspicion police officers need to conduct a traffic stop. There are many valid reasons why a sober driver may want to turn around upon seeing police lights or police cruisers blocking the roadway.
When avoiding an OUI checkpoint, do not exhibit erratic driving or any other behavior which would give the officers reasonable suspicion to pull you over in normal circumstances.
Just because it is not legal to pull over a driver for turning around does not mean that it will not happen. You must always pull over if an emergency vehicle is behind you on the road with flashing lights or a siren.
What should I do if I was arrested at an OUI Roadblock?
OUI roadblocks provide many opportunities for experienced trial attorneys to construct a strong defense. If you believe you were pulled over or detained without reasonable suspicion when you were arrested for OUI, contact a criminal defense attorney. You can call Webb Law Firm at 207-283-6400 to discuss your case. Please contact us today. We provide a free initial consultation to go over your case with you.