ROBINSON (KDKA) — They are called sobriety checkpoints.
And many local police forces team up to set them up, like the West Hills DUI Task Force.
“A group of municipalities band together and hold a checkpoint in one specific municipality and pull over all of the motorists, typically driving through the municipality that evening,” Michael Sherman, a DUI defense attorney, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.
That’s what happened to Molly Hlubin on her way home from the old Star Lake, now Key Bank Pavilion, in 2013.
But in a 35-page opinion, the state Supreme Court has tossed out her arrest and conviction.
Because the task force was never authorized by elected officials.
Police officers from 16 municipalities were part of this West Hills DUI Task Force along Steubenville Pike in Robinson, but none of those 16 municipalities had elected officials voting and approving an ordinance authorizing the task force.
And that, says the state Supreme Court, is a problem.
Sherman who represented Hlubin says police cannot set up multi-jurisdictional task forces to arrest people without elected officials approving the mission.
“The elected officials didn’t have any input into the decision,” said Sherman.
There are similar DUI task forces throughout the region.
“We are passionate about getting impaired drivers off the roads,” said Captain Douglas Ogden from the Moon Township Police who ran the checkpoint that stopped Hlubin in Robinson. “Checkpoints are the most effective way of contacting large numbers of impaired drivers and reinforcing public awareness that we’re doing DUI enforcement.”
But this decision could impact other DUI cases now being prosecuted.
“There was no authority to pull the motorist over in the first place,” says Sherman.
Delano: “Do you think this affects hundreds of people?”
Sherman: “It could be thousands.”
If the DUI arrest was made as part of a recent multi-community task force, it could be tossed out, says Sherman.
Of course, it may not take long before the municipalities pass the appropriate local ordinances allowing the task forces.
After all, they have been effective.
The West Hills DUI Task Force alone has arrested 700 drunk or drugged drivers in a 15-year period.
In the meantime, watch for some local communities to step up their own roving DUI patrols within their own municipal boundaries.
That’s perfectly legal.