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That's no holiday display - it's a sobriety checkpoint

Congratulations! If you are reading this, you have survived Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Welcome to the 2015 holiday season and all the rewards and risks that come our way during the last few weeks of the year.

This is also the time of year that we see some kind of program combating drunk driving. The holidays tend to see more accidents involving drunk or otherwise impaired drivers, so law enforcement authorities and safety advocates launch one of a number of national anti-drunk driving campaigns. Booze It & Lose It is one. Some counties in Illinois have participated in Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, another national campaign.

There are surely more. Whatever the name, the components are generally the same: an awareness campaign, educational materials and sessions and, of course, increased enforcement. State and local police will often collaborate on the enforcement effort, adding patrols to neighborhoods and throwing up roadblocks (checkpoints) on more heavily traveled roads.

Believe it or not, research suggests that drivers are less stressed out by a checkpoint, a controlled stop, than a random stop, or so the Illinois Supreme Court said in its pivotal 1985 ruling in People v. Bartley. The court pointed out that drivers have notice of a checkpoint, if only by minutes, and know that every vehicle is being stopped. Also, the presence of a number of patrol cars and officers make the checkpoint feel more legitimate.

In contrast, a random stop involves one police car, perhaps two officers, no warning and no settled air of legitimacy. An officer conducting a random stop has full discretion -- unbridled discretion, according to the court -- over the interaction. At a checkpoint, officers take a systematic approach that reduces the risk of an officer abusing that discretion.

Still, police must follow acceptable procedures at checkpoints. Remember that an officer can only conduct a search if you agree to it or if there is probable cause -- that is, if they have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

If you have been charged with a crime as the result of a checkpoint stop, consult your attorney immediately.

Source: People v. Bartley, 486 N.E.2d 880 (Ill.,1985), via WestlawNext

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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