It seems counterproductive: every year police step up enforcement of suspected drunken driving around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
They initiate roving road patrols. They plan DUI checkpoints at locations throughout the state.
But then they announce exactly what they’re doing — down to where and when the patrols and checkpoints will take place — seemingly giving advance notice to anyone thinking of driving drunk.
“Because the United State Supreme Court made a ruling and said we were obligated to do so,” Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman, said Tuesday. “We’re obligated to follow the law like anybody else does.”
The mandate wasn’t always around, Vance said.
“We never used to announce them,” he said. “It was ‘Surprise!’”
That changed after a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case out of Michigan.
In that case the court ruled 6-3 that such checkpoints were constitutional. But in doing so, they implicitly acknowledged that certain guidelines — like publicizing the checkpoints ahead of time — were necessary.
If a person is driving, a police officer needs a reason to pull them over, or the stop would be illegal. Police advertise checkpoints as a way of giving fair notice to the general public.
“It’s required because otherwise it would be considered a detention without reasonable suspicion, which is a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” said John Williams, a New Haven defense lawyer.
As amendments go, the fourth — which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires police to (in most cases) convince a judge to sign a warrant to search citizens — is a pretty important one.
In the 1990 case, the Michigan appeals court had ruled that DUI checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment before the U.S. Supreme Court overruled, using a balancing act to determine that the dangers posed by drunk driving outweighed the Fourth Amendment intrusion.
Interestingly, when the case was sent back to the Michigan Supreme Court, justices there effectively side-stepped the U.S. Supreme Court decision by ruling that sobriety checkpoints violated their state constitution.
Ten other states, including Rhode Island, have similar bans on sobriety checkpoints, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But not Connecticut.
Guidelines issued by the NHTSA also instruct police departments to publicize checkpoints aggressively.
Williams said that in cases regarding the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints, courts hold that announcing them ahead of time helps police satisfy constitutionality requirements.
“If they didn’t announce it they would definitely be in trouble and they wouldn’t be able to use any of the results,” Williams said.
Vance said that despite the requirements to announce the checkpoints and patrols ahead of time, state police still arrest drunk drivers.
“It doesn’t impact our ability to enforce,” Vance said, pointing out that state police charged 65 people with drunken driving over the Thanksgiving weekend last year. “That’s pretty significant for one holiday.”
Vance also said that aggressive publicity regarding the checkpoints acts as a deterrent to drunk drivers. People reading or seeing about upcoming checkpoints may think twice about driving drunk as a result, he said.
Thanksgiving is especially important, Vance said, because it’s “the first major holiday where a lot of college students come home for the first time,” and police hope parents will remind them about driving safely.
A full list of state police patrols and checkpoints is embedded below. In the Valley, troopers from the state police Troop I barracks plan roving patrols on routes 15 and 8 Friday and Saturday.