Guest Commentary: Kentucky police have new responsibilities in DUI checkpoints, but easy on the bubbly

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By GUEST AUTHOR | December 31, 2015 11:55 am

By Aaron Silletto

Drivers in Kentucky should expect that they might encounter DUI checkpoints on New Year’s Eve. Kentucky State Police and local authorities have long used roadblocks and corresponding sobriety checks as a deterrent to intoxicated driving. Often, these checkpoints are instituted on holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve, when revelers have been known to abuse their driving privileges by operating impaired.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 10 of the Kentucky Constitution require that any warrantless search or seizure be reasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld DUI checkpoints because it believes the government’s strong interest in keeping impaired drivers off highways greatly offsets the imposition on drivers.

In 2003, the Kentucky Supreme Court recommended certain procedures to be used by law enforcement officers in establishing vehicle checkpoints, in order to help them follow the guidelines laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Dec. 17, the Kentucky Supreme Court added some teeth to its 2003 recommendations. The Court inCommonwealth v. Cox made the 2003 recommendations mandatory. As Chief Justice Minton wrote for the Court, “If law enforcement is permitted to continue conducting indiscriminate seizures of individuals at a roadblock without any basis in suspicion, we must ensure that officers do not abuse this privilege.”

So what is now required of police in Kentucky with regard to DUI checkpoints?

  1. Supervisory law enforcement officers should establish the location, time, and procedures to be used in any checkpoints. At the very least, officers in the field who wish to set up checkpoints must seek approval from superiors.
  2. Each motorist approaching the checkpoint must be treated in exactly the same manner, in compliance with the supervisory officers’ established procedures.Officers “should not have unfettered discretion in deciding which vehicles to stop or how each stop is handled.”
  3. Motorists should only be detained for a short period of time, and only as long as necessary for officers to conduct an initial check for impaired driving or proper license and registration.
  4. The checkpoint must be readily apparent to approaching motorists. Police vehicles should generally be marked and officers should be in uniform. Signs warning of a checkpoint ahead also are advisable. The Court even mildly suggested media announcements to the public before the checkpoints are to take place.

The Kentucky State Police website is a great resource for information on the location of upcoming vehicle checkpoints.

The bottom line is DUI checkpoints are still very much in line with the Kentucky Supreme Court’s view of the Fourth Amendment. While it is incumbent of the authorities to follow these guidelines, drivers should expect these checkpoints to continue.

For a safe and happy New Year, a designated driver is recommended. Not only does that practice prevent unnecessary loss of life, but it also protects drivers from protracted legal battles, or from having their driving privileges suspended.

Aaron J. Silletto is a Partner with Goldberg Simpson. He joined the firm in 2004 and his practice primarily includes criminal defense, insurance and tort defense, insurance coverage and bad faith, and general civil litigation. Prior to joining the firm, he worked two years as a staff attorney at the office of the Louisville Metro Public Defender.  He can be reached