With the holidays fast approaching, it is the time of year to celebrate. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are usually happy times when people re-connect with family and friends.
While traveling the highways and byways to and from their celebratory activities, drivers in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County may encounter a sobriety checkpoint staffed by the police, sheriff’s office, or Florida Highway Patrol, especially if traveling late at night or in the early-morning hours.
Cities in and around West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County have employed these “DUI checkpoints” in the past in an effort to catch drunk drivers, especially around major holidays.
If you drive into a DUI checkpoint, you should cooperate with the police. You may be able to proceed right away, but if you are detained, it should only be for a few minutes.
If you are arrested at a checkpoint — for DUI or any other charge — it is wise to contact an attorney to discuss your case. Police must follow established rules when employing checkpoints or all the evidence may be excluded. A lawyer may be able to find errors with the establishment of the checkpoint, or the conduct of law enforcement. Your attorney may be able to find other ways to poke holes in the validity of the arrest that could lead to a reduction of the charge or an outright dismissal of charges.
But don’t DUI checkpoints violate the law, especially the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents illegal searches and seizures?
Yes, and no.
Twenty-five years ago, in the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case of Michigan State Police v. Sitz (496 U.S. 444), the court authorized sobriety checkpoints. “The measure of the intrusion on motorists stopped briefly at sobriety checkpoints – is slight,” wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a 6-3 majority opinion.
“Constitutional balance must be struck in favor of protecting the public against even the ‘minimally intrusive’ seizures involved in this case. … No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States’ interest in eradicating it” because the state has a “grave and legitimate interest in curbing drunk driving,” Rehnquist wrote.
In giving its blessing to sobriety checkpoints, the majority relied on previous rulings in which it declared:
“Where a Fourth Amendment intrusion serves special governmental needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, it is necessary to balance the individual’s privacy expectations against the Government’s interests to determine whether it is impractical to require a warrant.” (See National Treasury Employees Union vs. Von Raab, 489 U. S. 656 (1989) and U.S. vs. Martinez–Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976)).
In other words, preventing drunk driving outweighed the normal “reasonableness” requirements of the U.S. Constitution for other types of detentions.
In a blistering dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens disputed some of Rehnquist’s facts (including the assertion of an increasing problem despite facts showing a declining number of deaths due to drunk driving) and wrote that the court gave unlimited discretion to law enforcement to detain drivers on any suspicion, whereas the law requires reasonable suspicion:
“This is a case that is driven by nothing more than symbolic state action — an insufficient justification for an otherwise unreasonable program of random seizures. Unfortunately, the Court is transfixed by the wrong symbol — the illusory prospect of punishing countless intoxicated motorists — when it should keep its eyes on the road plainly marked by the Constitution.”
Twenty-five years later, during the holiday season of 2015, Drivers in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County should be aware that a checkpoint may pop up anywhere at any time, especially on nights when people are considered more likely to drink alcohol. If you are concerned about DUI checkpoints, there are several things you can do legally to avoid them:
- Follow the media (newspapers, TV, and radio) to learn about reports of DUI checkpoints. Law enforcement agencies are required to publicize the locations and times of checkpoints, but they often give little advance warning or do so on the day of the checkpoint.
- Contact local law enforcement agencies or go to their web sites for information about DUI checkpoints.
- A few Internet sites are in the business of tracking DUI checkpoints, including Roadblock.org and DUIblock.com.
- It is legal to avoid a checkpoint in the distance by turning left or right onto a cross street or even making a U-turn as long as no traffic violations occur in doing so.
- It is legal to enter a location (such as the property of an open business) prior to coming upon a checkpoint.
Law enforcement agencies must follow strict guidelines when conducting DUI checkpoints. They must have a written plan and the officers in the field must follow it. They may not randomly select drivers to detain, although stopping every fourth of fifth driver that passes through a checkpoint has been declared legal. Any deviation from the guidelines may make the entire checkpoint unconstitutional.
Over the past 25 years, many law enforcement officers have continued to make serious mistakes in the implementation of a checkpoint or its actual execution in the field.
If you are ensnared by a DUI checkpoint, remain calm and cooperate. If you are detained too long or arrested, make careful observations about the process unfolding, because the police may make a mistake that could lead to the suppression of any evidence they recover.
Have a Happy Holiday season in 2015 and be safe out there. And if you need an attorney after a DUI checkpoint arrest, the experienced attorneys at Meltzer and Bell are ready to represent you.
All forms of marijuana are illegal in Florida under state and federal law, but starting in the summer of 2015, a handful of South Florida cities and counties acted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, making possession a civil — instead of a criminal — offense.
Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous county with 2.7 million residents, was the first Florida municipality to decriminalize possession of small amounts (defined as 20 grams or less) of marijuana, followed by the cities of Miami Beach and Key West.
Hallandale Beach, a city of about 40,000 residents in Broward County that shares a border with Miami-Dade, was the first city in its county to approve decriminalization and was followed by West Palm Beach, the largest city in Palm Beach County with about 100,000 residents.
Both Palm Beach County and Broward County (with about 3.25 million residents combined) are poised to join this growing list before the end of 2015 after preliminary approval of decriminalization. Several other Florida jurisdictions are considering similar measures.
In West Palm Beach, the new law (Ordinance No. 4590-15) would give law enforcement officers the option of issuing citations to people in possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana (or possession of drug paraphernalia), which imposes a fine of $100 with no arrest, no jail time, no court appearance, and no permanent criminal record — a civil penalty akin to a traffic ticket.
The police have wide discretion under the new laws, but a person suspected of a felony, driving while impaired, a violent crime, domestic violence, or a person with an unpaid citation won’t catch a break under the new law, and will most likely be arrested on a misdemeanor for possession.
Under state law, a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana up to 20 grams may result in up to 12 months one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Possession of more than 20 grams is a felony in Florida, with penalties of up to five years imprisonment, a $5,000 fine, or both (Florida Statutes 775.082 and 776.083).
Issuing citations instead of making arrests for marijuana possession frees law enforcement to concentrate on serious crimes and helps to unclog court dockets, advocates for the reforms say.
Attorney for Marijuana Possession Charges in West Palm BeachIf you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach or Broward counties, or anywhere in South Florida, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the local laws to discuss your options and help you make the right decision in your case.
Shift in AttitudesAs national attitudes toward marijuana use evolve and more states, counties, and cities enact laws to decriminalize marijuana, fewer people will face arrest and the consequences of a criminal record, which may adversely affect education and employment opportunities in their future. Some people with a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana have experienced difficulty in obtaining a loan or finding a place to live.
About half of the states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for varying degrees of medical use. The states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized the possession of small amounts of weed for recreational use, as has the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
A national survey by the Pew Research Center in March 2015 found that 53 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal (both recreationally and medically), while 44 percent said it should remain illegal. The survey also found that 76 percent said there should be no jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, while 22 percent favored jail time. Forty-nine percent said they tried marijuana at least once, while 51 percent said they had not.
A Palm Beach Post editorial in July 2015 called the ongoing policy shift toward greater acknowledgement of marijuana use by authorities a “wave of sanity.”
Many legal issues arise with the adoption of these new laws that downgrade marijuana possession from a criminal offense to a civil infraction.
Cities within a county may also opt out if the county adopts decriminalization, meaning that the law on one side of a Florida street may be different than the law in another municipality just across the road, creating a patchwork of laws.
Will state agencies, such as the Florida Highway Patrol, apply state law instead of the local law during a traffic stop in a city that has decriminalized possession of 20 grams or less?
And of course, the law is blind to the “black market” — not everyone grows their own pot; marijuana originated from somewhere and was delivered to an individual somehow. The sale of 20 grams of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor and the sale of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a felony under state law.
West Palm Beach Ordinance No. 4590-15On Sept. 13, 2015, the West Palm Beach City Commission unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4590-15 after granting preliminary approval two weeks earlier. The exact text of the new law is reprinted below from pages 11-12 of the minutes of the commission meeting:
Public Hearing and Second Reading of Ordinance No. 4590-15 (APPROVED) amending Chapter 54 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of West Palm Beach to provide civil penalties for the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis and for possession of drug paraphernalia.
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COMMISSION OF THE CITY OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, AMENDING THE CODE OF ORDINANCES AT CHAPTER 54 (OFFENSES) ARTICLE I, (IN GENERAL) SECTION 54-1 (ADOPTION OF STATE LAWS RELATING TO MISDEMEANORS), PROVIDE CIVIL PENALTIES FOR THE POSSESSION OF 20 GRAMS OR LESS OF CANNABIS (MARIJUANA) AND POSSESSION OF DRUG PARAPHERNALIA; SETTING FORTH PENALTIES AND ENFORCEMENT RESPONSIBILITES; PROVIDING A CONFLICTS CLAUSE, A CODIFICATION CLAUSE AND A SEVERABILITY CLAUSE; PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. Agenda Cover Memorandum No.: 20534 (attached).
Staff Recommended Motion: Approve Ordinance No. 4590-15.
Background: The American Civil Liberties Union reports that when people are arrested for possessing miniscule amounts of marijuana that may have dire collateral consequences that affect their eligibility for public housing and student financial aid, employment opportunities, child custody determinations and immigration status.
Further, the Federal Bureau of Investigation/Uniform Crime Reporting Program Data regarding misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests indicates that in 2010, 77 (percent) of marijuana arrests were of people 29 or younger, 62 (percent) were of people younger than 25, and more than one-third were of teenagers and pre-teens.
Currently, City of West Palm Beach law enforcement officers may either arrest or not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor. This Ordinance will provide an alternative and additional mechanism under the City’s Code to enforce violations that are based upon the commission of certain enumerated misdemeanors.
Law enforcement officers may: (1) issue a civil citation pursuant to this ordinance; (2) arrest; or (3) not arrest a person for the commission of a misdemeanor offense of possession of marijuana and/or possession of drug paraphernalia.
Fiscal Note: No fiscal impact to budget.
West Palm Beach’s marijuana decriminalization law is similar to the others enacted in Florida in 2015, but it is indicative of the change in attitudes about marijuana that the ordinance received widespread support, even from law enforcement.
Find an Attorney for Marijuana Possession in Broward & Palm Beach countiesIf you have been arrested or received a citation for possession of marijuana anywhere in South Florida, including Broward County, Florida or Palm Beach County, Florida, contact a local criminal defense attorney at Meltzer & Bell, P.A.. The attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. have more than two decades of experience defending clients on criminal charges.
Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell are qualified lawyers who know the nuances of the local laws and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call Meltzer & Bell, P.A. at (954) 716-8538 to set up a free consultation.
The practice of police and other law enforcement having a quota of traffic tickets to write is now forbidden in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 264, unanimously passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, is now in effect.
The law, called the “Waldo Bill” after the Florida town notorious for its status as a speed trap, prohibits any law enforcement agency from creating a “traffic citation quota.” A quota, for example, would instruct officers that they much write a certain amount of tickets – most often speeding tickets – per day, week or month.
For many towns, cities and counties, issuing traffic citations is not a way to create a deterrent to unsafe driving. It is a revenue source, in which the local police or sheriff’s office writes tickets to collect fees, which then go to county coffers. It is a troubling paradox: The law is supposed to discourage this kind of behavior, but the government that is supposed to enforce these laws relies on people to break them in order for it to function.
Under the new law, cities and counties will need to look for another way to raise revenue. The law also includes a red flag provision: If the revenue from traffic citations consists of a third or more of a county’s or municipality’s budget for law enforcement, that government must submit a report to the state detaining their revenue and expenses.
Cities and counties have largely adopted the attitude that they can treat traffic citations as a cash cow because too few people actually challenge their speeding tickets. Anyone cited or arrested for any traffic offense can hire a speeding ticket lawyer and fight to get the citation or charges dismissed.