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Procedures used in Baton Rouge DWI checkpoints under scrutiny

More than two decades ago the United States Supreme Court ruled that states have a substantial interest in controlling drunk driving. The court was faced with a challenge to DWI checkpoints that argued the suspicion-less stops violated constitutional protections. The high court says that sobriety checkpoints are not per se unconstitutional, but the court suggested that to pass constitutional muster the operations should be conducted with some safeguards in place to protect constitutional principles. Not all states allow law enforcement to use these operations.

For years, DWI checkpoints were considered unconstitutional in Louisiana. But in 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints that are conducted with sufficient safeguards to protect Fourth Amendment rights barring the government from engaging in unreasonable search and seizures are constitutional. Law enforcement agencies have been allowed to conduct these operations in Louisiana since that time.

But, issues surrounding how a checkpoint is set up may still be an issue. A city judge and a State District Court judge have each found problems with the way that the Baton Rouge Police Department conducted a DWI checkpoint in 2010, according to the Advocate.

The state high court says that checkpoints cannot be set up lawfully without a written statement setting forth when, where and how long a specific checkpoint will be conducted. Similarly, the field officers associated with conducting the operation should not be involved in creating the rules contained in the written statement. Supervisors or administrative staff members who are not associated with the running of the operation should create the checkpoint parameters.

Last year, a city judge ruled that a supervisor crossed the line after appearing in person at a 2010 Baton Rouge DWI checkpoint, where the judge found that the supervisor engaged in the duties of a field officer. In late January, a State District Judge upheld the ruling. The city says that it plans to appeal.

Source: The Advocate, " Two judges: Police violating DWI checkpoints rules," Charles Lussier, Feb. 13, 2014

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