Wakefield, NH- Police chief Ken Fifield justifies DUI checkpoints by claiming driving is suspicious behavoir
(MASS PRIVATE I) Ossipee, NH — A Carroll County man is questioning authorities about the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. But local police chiefs say that question has been settled.
The topic came up at Wednesday’s county commission meeting when Ed Comeau, of Brookfield, asked commissioners whether they considered the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when they signed off on some paperwork for a state grant to fund the sheriff’s office involvement in an upcoming sobriety checkpoint.
“When you were sworn in as commissioners, did you swear an oath the the constitution?” said Comeau. “The Fourth Amendment states you need probable cause in order to pull someone over if they haven’t done a crime. Was that taken into consideration?”
Comeau films county commission meetings for his website, www.governmentoversite.com.
In order to conduct a checkpoint, police must get approval from a Superior Court judge. Right now Wakefield police are in the process of writing the application to seek approval from the Superior Court.
The application to the court includes a detailed accounting of the purpose of the checkpoint, how long the checkpoint will be conducted, how long each stop can last, how the vehicles will be pulled over, and what the officer will do when he or she has someone pulled over, said Fifield.
“This is very much the same as a warrant for a search or an arrest because it’s done with cause and court approval not just the whim of an executive who says go stop cars on Route 16 and let’s see what we get,” said Fifield. “It’s not what I think, it’s what the courts have already determined.”
During a stop, an officer has several responsibilities, said Fifield. Those include: informing the motorist of the checkpoint, identifying the motorist, and checking license and registration. The person is let go within three minutes if there’s no problem. Police will not be looking for broken headlights and overdue inspections.
“I’m still trying to get over the Fourth Amendment issue of where is the probable cause,” Comeau replied. “Where is the suspicion.”
But Fifield said the standard isn’t probable cause, it’s actually “reasonable and articulable suspicion.” Officers need that standard to make a stop. Officers need to meet the higher standard of “probable cause” to make an arrest or do a search warrant. Fifield stressed that the checkpoints are legal because they have gotten permission from a judge.