PA Supreme Court holds most DUI checkpoints are illegal

If you are currently facing DUI, drug possession, or other charges in Pennsylvania which stem from a multi-jurisdictional sobriety checkpoint, you may be entitled to dismissal of all your charges under the recently-decided case of Commonwealth v. Hlubin.

In Hlubin, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that multi-jurisdictional sobriety checkpoints are generally illegal. However, the implications of this holding are much broader. Under Hlubin, any multi-jurisdictional investigative body or task force will be deemed illegal unless certain limited exceptions are met.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court looked to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act ("ICA") and the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act ("MPJA"). The MPJA states that, as a general matter, municipal police only have authority within their primary geographic jurisdiction. The MPJA provides 6 specific situations in which law enforcement officers may act outside their primary jurisdiction. In the Hlubin case, the government tried to argue that the MPJA exceptions allowed multi-jurisdictional checkpoints. The court disagreed and held that none of the exceptions applied to multi-jurisdictional checkpoints.

The ICA, on the other hand, gives specific and clear guidelines for setting up multi-jurisdictional groups. Under the ICA, 1) the group must establish a joint cooperation agreement, and 2) each and every municipality involved in the task force must pass a local ordinance reflecting its entry into that joint cooperation agreement. A resolution is not enough, this must be done by ordinance, and there are seven specific items that must be included in the resolution. The Court held in Hlubin that this procedure must be followed in order for a multi-jurisdictional sobriety checkpoint to be deemed lawful.

There is another possible situation in which a multi-jurisdictional sobriety checkpoint could be lawful. Although this situation was not mentioned in the Hlubin case, I believe it is still important to discuss. If all law enforcement officers on scene have county-wide jurisdiction, for example if they are members of the Pennsylvania State Police or if they have been given Special County Detective status, then the checkpoint would likely be lawful. Special County Detectives are local police officers who are given broad powers and county-wide jurisdiction by the county's elected district attorney. A checkpoint attended to exclusively by Special County Detectives and/or State Police would be lawful.

If you or someone you care about was recently arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, you may be wondering how this case can help you. Anyone who has been detained at an unlawful multi-jurisdictional checkpoint is entitled to the suppression of all evidence obtained as a result of their unlawful detention. Since most (if not all) evidence in your case would have been obtained after you were stopped, then all the evidence in your case would be thrown out. With no evidence, there is no case, and your charges should be completely dismissed. However, you will need an experienced attorney to guide you through the process of seeking suppression of evidence and dismissal of charges while protecting your rights and meeting your deadlines along the way.

If you think the Hlubin decision could apply to you or someone you know, call Gothie Law Firm, P.C. at 717-848-8455 to schedule a free in-office consultation with one of our experienced DUI defense attorneys.