DUI Checkpoints (Part 2)

by | Jul 24, 2015 | Blog, Criminal Law, DUI, Traffic Stops

The closest the New Jersey Appellate Division or Supreme Court came to addressing the legality of DUI checkpoints was in the 2005 case of State v. Badessa, 185 N.J. 303.
The issue before the Court was whether evidence gathered by the police after an unconstitutional motor vehicle stop should have been excluded in a prosecution for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. There, a police officer made observations that gave him probable cause to believe the car’s driver was under the influence of alcohol. Based on those observations, the officer requested that the driver submit to the breathalyzer test. The driver refused to take the test and was charged under the refusal statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a. He then moved to suppress all evidence, including the officer’s observations, obtained following the motor vehicle stop. At a municipal court trial and again at a trial de novo in the Superior Court, Law Division, the driver’s suppression motions were denied, the evidence was admitted, and the driver convicted of refusing to submit to the breathalyzer test. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction, concluding that the exclusionary rule did not require suppressing evidence garnered from the unconstitutional stop. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed and therefore reversed.

In Badessa, the driver was stopped after attempting to evade a checkpoint. His challenge to the legality of the motor vehicle stop was denied in the municipal court. On appeal to the Law Division , the Superior Court held that even assuming an unconstitutional stop, the court concluded that defendant’s refusal to take the breathalyzer test was an independent, intervening act that was so attenuated from the purported constitutional violation that it did not “make good law or common sense” to invoke the exclusionary rule. The defendant only challenged the constitutionality of his stop for evading the checkpoint and the Law Division upheld his refusal conviction.

The wrinkle in Badessa that kept the courts from directly addressing the legality of A DUI checkpoint in New Jersey was that the defendant challenged whether the checkpoint zone provided adequate warnings to motorists that a lawful turn onto an intersecting road would provide cause for a vehicular stop. Thus, the specific manner in which the checkpoint was conducted was challenged, as opposed to a broad challenge to the overall legality of checkpoints. The Appellate Division determined that the stop of defendant’s car was “unreasonable”.

The State appealed the suppression of the evidence gathered after the invalid vehicular stop, arguing that even though the stop was unlawful, the evidence of Badessa’s subsequent refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test should still be admissible at trial. Notably, the State did not cross-petition to contest the Appellate Division’s finding that the police unconstitutionally stopped defendant’s car. Had the State done so, the Supreme Court would have had an opportunity to address the overall legality of DUI checkpoints. As noted above, the State’s strategy left the issue open in NJ and allowed for the continuation of the various DUI checkpoint programs. Had the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an opinion that was consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s dissent in Sitz, DUI checkpoints would have been outlawed in New Jersey. As it stands, law enforcement remains free to rely on Sitz to support the use of checkpoints throughout the state.

With regard to the specific issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Badessa, the Court sided with the defendant and held that DUI and refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test are part of a comprehensive statutory scheme and may be viewed as two sides of the same statutory coin. The facts necessary to prosecute those two offenses are inextricably intertwined. After all, to secure a refusal conviction, the State must prove that “the arresting officer had probable cause to believe that the person had been driving” while under the influence and “was placed under arrest” for DUI. N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a. Thus, the police officer’s observations at the scene of the illegal stop of defendant’s car were necessary to prove an essential element of refusal to take the breathalyzer test. Because that evidence must be suppressed, the State cannot prove a violation of the refusal statute. Thus, the State lost another small battle related to DUI checkpoints, but won the war to the extent that the programs have been allowed to continue.