There are certain rules law enforcement must follow when setting up sobriety checkpoints or DUI roadblocks, but the Tennessee highway patrol failed to follow them in a 2012 roadblock in Harris County. Therefore, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found the roadblock unconstitutional and vacated the DUI conviction of a Chattanooga man who was caught up in it.
The Chattanooga man was convicted in 2016 after filing motions to dismiss in 2013 and 2014. His was one of 285 cars stopped at the roadblock in 2012, but he was the only one arrested for DUI. The main question wasn’t whether he was unfairly singled out, however. It was whether the highway patrol followed the law when setting up a surprise DUI roadblock at the exit to a tunnel.
“We strongly question whether tunnels, which provide the motorists limited space in which to avoid accidents and place officers and motorists at increased risk of harm, should ever be utilized to conceal checkpoints,” noted the opinion.
More immediately pressing, however, was whether its location at the exit to a tunnel gave drivers any chance to avoid the roadblock. This was especially concerning since the officers apparently did not post warning signs before the entrance to the tunnel.
Tennessee’s constitution requires law enforcement to alert the public before establishing a roadblock, to give driver’s adequate notice of the roadblock so they can avoid it, and to locate the roadblock in a safe and relevant location. None of these requirements appeared to have been met in this case.
As a result, the 2012 roadblock violated the Chattanooga man’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The evidence obtained from the unconstitutional roadblock must therefore be suppressed and the man’s DUI conviction overturned.
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office told reporters they were still reviewing the decision and had not decided whether to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
If you have been caught up in a sobriety checkpoint or DUI roadblock, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can evaluate whether that roadblock violated your rights. If it did, it may be possible to have your charges dismissed.