Sobriety Checkpoints in Manchester NH on Super Bowl Weekend

When you make your plans for Super Bowl weekend…you may want to think about steering clear of Manchester, New Hampshire.

This week, the Manchester Police Department announced that it will conduct a “sobriety checkpoint” on Friday, February 1 and Saturday, February 2 at “undisclosed locations” in Manchester. One would expect that these checkpoints will run during the evening hours, around the time that people head home from local bars and restaurants. Perhaps the City figures, in its infinite wisdom, that true Patriots fans would rather spend the weekend in jail than watch the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. It goes without saying that these checkpoints do nothing to combat drunk driving in New Hampshire.

The Union Leader published this announcement earlier this week:
Manchester Plans For Sobriety Checkpoint

Sobriety checkpoints are used by police departments throughout New Hampshire to exploit an unusual loophole to one of our fundamental constitutional rights. Most of the time, the police cannot stop and detain any person, unless the police have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that the person is violating the law in some way. So, how can a checkpoint be legitimate, when the police use it as a dragnet to stop and detain hundreds of innocent people who have done nothing wrong?

The answer boils down to a familiar refrain: it’s the DWI exception to the Constitution, of course!

In a series of decisions, the United States Supreme Court has interpreted the federal constitution, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court has interpreted our State Constitution, to allow suspicion-less stops of motor vehicles at a sobriety checkpoint under certain circumstances. The checkpoint must be pre-authorized by court order, announced ahead of time in some public forum (hence the Union Leader press release), must be conducted in a neutral and standardized fashion, and must be designed only to interdict drunk driving, not drugs or other crimes.

In a classic piece of circular logic, Courts have “reasoned” that sobriety checkpoints “work” – they deter, prevent and interdict drunk driving. How do we know this? Well, if the checkpoint ensnares a great many drunk drivers, that proves the checkpoint worked. But what if the checkpoint, as is usually the case, results in the temporary detention of hundreds of innocent motorists but few or no DWI arrests? Well, that just proves that the advance publication of the checkpoint deterred drunk driving!

The good news for clients I have represented is that the sobriety checkpoint’s greatest strength from the police standpoint– the ability to stop and detain motorists for no reason at all – is also its greatest weakness from the prosecution standpoint. These prosecutions often fail because the arresting officer observed no erratic driving before making the stop. Thus, as a class these cases tend to be weaker than the typical NH DWI case where the arresting officer observed swerving or other driving errors.

So here’s the bottom line: Enjoy Super Bowl weekend with friends at home, or at your favorite drinking establishment – but even if you act responsibly, and safely, you might want to move your festivities somewhere far away from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Categories: DWI News