Most states legalized DWI checkpoints in the 1990s. Generally, these checkpoints are legal, as long as they meet certain requirements. One such requirement is specific legal authorization from the state’s legislature.
But according to 1994’s Holt v. State, the State Legislature has never specifically authorized DWI checkpoints. So, these roadblocks are illegal in Texas. No matter how carefully these checkpoints are set up in Tarrant County, they will always miss that element.
The Reasonable Suspicion Rule
DWI checkpoints allow police officers to circumvent the Constitution’s reasonable suspicion rule. This doctrine requires officers to have specific, articulable facts before they may detain motorists.
The Supreme Court has diluted the reasonable suspicion rule in several recent cases, such as 2016’s Utah v. Strieff and 2014’s Heien v. North Carolina. Both these cases upheld controversial police stops. In Heien, the officer was mistaken about state law, but the Court still upheld the stop. In Strieff, the officer had little more than a hunch.
Nevertheless, the rule itself is still in place. In a DWI stop, there are basically two levels of reasonable suspicion. First, in most cases, the officer must see a criminal offense. Typically, that offense is a traffic violation. That violation could be unrelated to alcohol. Second, officers must suspect the defendant was intoxicated. Evidence on this point includes:
Odor of alcohol,
Bloodshot eyes, and
Individually, these items do not prove anything. But collectively, they generally add up to reasonable suspicion.
To make an arrest, officers must have probable cause. Typically, that means the defendant must fail a chemical test. To convict the defendant, prosecutors must establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.
Heightened DWI Enforcement in Texas
Checkpoints may be illegal in Texas, but other forms of heightened DWI enforcement are perfectly legal.
Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) campaigns are a good example. Procedure varies by department. But generally, after the department receives a state gant, the department reassigns officers to specific areas and instructs them to arrest people for specific infractions, such as DWI.
To justify the expense, many officers feel pressure to make as many arrests as possible. Therefore, they sometimes take illegal shortcuts, especially with regard to reasonable suspicion. Additionally, some jurors get the impression that officers were looking for certain offenders. And, to paraphrase Patty Hearst, who was something of an expert on this subject, drunk drivers are easy to find if you purposefully hunt for them.
In Texas, officers must have reasonable suspicion to detain motorists. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.