Many of you who read the news and our blog regularly see us posting information about DUI checkpoints and “saturation” patrols. Courts and US Supreme Court case law generally favors the use of “saturation” patrols in Baltimore County and throughout Maryland, although as this DUI lawyer explains, often the results of a checkpointare much fairer to individuals stopped.
For example, this Baltimore Sun article discusses the Maryland State Police’s recent DUI “saturation” patrol over the holiday weekend, citing in part:
Troopers from all 22 state police barracks “made their presence known” by conducting stops targeting drunken, distracted, aggressive and lead-footed drivers, as well as those without seatbelts on, state police said Monday.
Of those pulled over, 96 were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, 56 were arrested on drug violations and 133 were arrested for other crimes, police said.
What is the difference between a DUI Checkpoint and a Saturation Patrol?
DUI checkpoints, in Maryland and across Baltimore County, are when officers set up a roadblock on a particular road (White Marsh Blvd, for example) and stop every 3rd, 5th, or 10th car. The stopped vehicle is checked for valid license and registration and in the process generally asked questions related to drinking and driving. This encounter is perfectly legal under Supreme Court case law (see here), but is frowned upon due to the intrusion on otherwise law-abiding citizens and the lack of effectiveness in actually catching Drunk Drivers (see University of Maryland 2009 DUI Checkpoint effectiveness study). As discussed in our other article, here, there are defenses to DUI checkpoints, but generally speaking the officers aren’t “targeting” anything and are simply looking to stop every 3rd car.
On Saturation Patrols, officers of the Baltimore County Police department, the Maryland State Police, Howard, Harford, or any other county are going out “saturating” particular areas in search of drunk drivers. They will double and triple up patrols and order the officers to “target” drunk and aggressive driving. Generally these are areas around bars and restaurants, at or near closing time. Places like downtown Towson, old town Ellicott City, or Main Street Bel Air are favorites. At the end of the shift (or month), officers get awards for who hands out the most tickets.
- It is an ugly fact (that only retired officers will admit too) that Police receive promotions, pay increases, vacation schedule priority, etc. based upon, in LARGE part, numbers of arrests and tickets.
Officers are looking for drunk drivers, which means any behavior that appears out of place, like failing to use a turn signal or crossing a double line, will be used as a predicate reason to pull your car over. Because these officers are “targeting” drunk and aggressive driving, they will be looking for signs of impairment, even when they aren’t there. And because they get rewarded for arrests, citations, and other metrics used to justify police statistics, they will be looking to issue some type of ticket. All borderline cases of DUI will become arrests and all “warnings” will be tickets. We are not implying that officers are manufacturing evidence or lying about someone’s impairment level, but the simple truth is that when you “believe” that someone is drunk (i.e. coming out of a bar late at night) you may impose that belief on their behavior – even if they truly only had two beers.
Baltimore County DUI: The bottom line
We regularly see clients charged with little or no evidence in saturation patrol related stops. The problem is that the “saturation” patrol exposes many innocent persons, who have had little to drink, to substantial fines, loss of driving privilege (which is often worse than the criminal penalty), and potential jail time. And remember, according to the Baltimore Sun:
State police said similar initiatives to keep state roads safe will continue through the holiday season, into next year.
During the holiday season, please keep your ENlawyer’s number handy, you may need it!