Two compelling interests must be weighed in analyzing sobriety checkpoints: the need to protect the public from impaired drivers, and a citizen’s Fourth Amendment right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure.  Tennessee allows the use of such checkpoints, but only when operated under strict guidelines.  Although the crime of driving under the influence and its penalties can be found in Tennessee Code Annotated, there is no statute that lays out how and under what circumstances a Tennessee sobriety checkpoint may be used.  Instead, these issues have been decided in the courts, through case law.  Courts have ruled that the state must prove the existence of a compelling interest, and that the prevention of drunk driving is an interest compelling enough to use sobriety checkpoints.  Conversely, a roadblock where the interest was to insure valid driver’s licenses was found not compelling enough by a Tennessee court. Even if a roadblock does serve a sufficiently compelling state interest, it must be established and operated in accordance with predetermined operational guidelines and supervisory authority that minimize the risk of arbitrary intrustion on individuals and limit the discretion of law enforcement officers at the scene.  State v. Hicks, 55 S.W.3d 515 (Tenn. 2001).  The Hicks court determined the following guidelines should be used: stopping all cars traveling in both directions; taking adequate safety precautions such as warning drivers of the roadblock ahead, minimizing the length of individual stops, using a safe and visible area that allows cars to pull off to both sides of the road, as well as using traffic cones, orange reflective vest, spotlights, and other safety measures; conducting the checkpoint with uniformed officers and marked and lighted police cars; providing advance publicity which includes the time and general location of the roadblock; and limits on the discretion of the officers in the field.  If you have been the subject of a potentially illegal checkpoint, contact a Memphis DUI attorney to discuss your case. An example of the limits on officer discretion is that the decision to establish the checkpoint cannot be made by the officers manning it.  It must be set up through prior administrative approval.  Also, the officers on the scene must not be allowed to decide for themselves the procedures to be used in operating the checkpoint.  Again, this must be established by pre-approved administrative standards.  Avoiding a Tennessee DUI roadblock may be grounds for reasonable suspicion to pull over a driver.  It’s going to depend on the facts, including whether the driver was attempting to evade arrest or detection, the distance the driver was from the roadblock when the turn off or U-turn was made, whether the driver was able to see the roadblock, and the manner in which the driver operated the vehicle in making the evasive action.  If a driver commits a traffic violation while avoiding a roadblock, that is reasonable suspicion for the police to pursue and detain the driver.  Memphis DUI lawyer Patrick Stegall represents individuals charged with drunk driving in Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee.  Mr. Stegall can review your case, determine if there are any legal grounds to challenge the arrest, and advise you on the best way to proceed.  Please contact him at or 901-205-9894.

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