Florida officers conduct an illegal DUI checkpoint

Many Cases have been dropped after recent finding

St. Petersburg, FL – One of the most common things to come across on a weekend night is a DUI checkpoint. The general belief surrounding these checkpoints is to curb drunk driving and drivers off the road; however, according to research conducted by 10 New Investigators, law enforcement agencies are misusing these very points, citing example of the most recent check point that did just the opposite.

According to their reports, a DUI checkpoint was conducted illegally. Officers for the Florida Highway Patrol, Tarpon Springs Police Department, and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office are accused of swearing under oath they did nothing wrong, when they were the ones responsible.

The idea behind a DUI checkpoint is that it allows officers to randomly pull cars over and check for drunk drivers. But DUI attorneys and experts tell 10 News a DUI checkpoint operated last December in Pasco County was flat out illegal. “No one is going to say that DUIs are not a problem, that they’re not serious, that they’re not important,” said Tampa DUI attorney Jason Sammis. “But the good guys always have to play by the rules. The good guys have to balance their need to stop DUIs with the personal rights and freedoms of people.”

Similar was the case of the DUI checkpoint conducted last December. The Pasco Sheriff’s deputies, Florida Highway Patrol troopers, and Tarpon Springs Police officers were in charge for patrolling that day. The operational plan they filed stated they were going to pull over every third vehicle. Daniels noticed on the police’s own squad car video recordings that the three agencies were breaking the rules. The video clearly shows the flagman at the front of the checkpoint wasn’t following the plan and flagging in three and four cars at the time.

However, once the state attorney’s office was notified that the operational plan wasn’t followed and they were pulling over more than every third car, instead of dropping the cases, the state attorney’s office took a new tactic and it got ten law enforcement officers who worked that night to sign affidavits saying the operational plan was followed, which was a bald-faced lie.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-to-3 decision that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, but law enforcement had to follow certain rules. One of the rules is law enforcement must file an operational plan before they launch the checkpoint that describes how they will randomly select drivers for field tests.

According to experts in this area, filing a plan beforehand insures that police can’t profile drivers based on race or any other factor, such as a bumper sticker they don’t like. “It’s got to be a random stop. They have to pick every third car, every fourth car, and if they deviate from that plan it is basically an illegal checkpoint by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said DUI expert Stephan Daniels.

“Potentially they could put impaired drivers back on the road. The very thing they are trying to stop they are participating in now,” said DUI expert Daniels.

A spokesman says Assistant State Attorney Vin Petty missed that fact while he was at the checkpoint, and when he first watched the video, and that’s why he had officers sign the affidavits. The police agencies also claim they had no idea they were violating the law.

Attorney Jason Sammis said he found it “disturbing” when we asked him what it does to our system when someone is so zealous about trying to get a conviction they would lie on an affidavit and get law enforcement officers to swear what is true is not true.

“There were law enforcement officers at the scene, and they were there the entire night, and they saw no violations of this every third car rule,” said Sammis, whose client has had his case dropped. It also jeopardized the convictions of everyone arrested during that checkpoint.

Sammis, who was representing one of the drivers charged with DUI, wouldn’t let it go. He insisted the State Attorney’s Office take another look at the video, and prosecutors admitted the checkpoint was illegal.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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