When police pull motorists over, they must have probable cause. However, DUI checkpoints may be different. Typically, law enforcement agencies set up roadblocks on major streets and look at drivers for signs of impairment. DUI roadblocks are most likely to be set up when there is a higher potential for drunk driving, like around holidays or big events. Many states allow this practice to deter people from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Sobriety checkpoints have naturally been the subject of controversy, as they allow authorities to stop drivers and speak with them without having probable cause. There are rules governing these checkpoints, and police departments do not have free rein to stop every driver for no reason. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has guidelines to ensure that drunk driving checkpoints are valid, including that:
Checkpoints are not meant to take up much of a sober driver’s time and should generally last the same amount of time as a red light. Reasonable suspicion is needed for anything more than briefly stopping and questioning a driver. Police officers can only ask a driver to undergo sobriety testing if there is evidence that would cause a reasonable officer to suspect intoxication. To arrest or further detain a driver after testing, there must be more evidence that indicates impairment, like the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) being high or failing a field sobriety test.
At the sobriety checkpoint, police officers are looking for signs of intoxication. This includes the odor of alcohol, open containers, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the driver admitting to drinking. If police officers see signs of intoxication, they will pull the vehicle over for a further investigation. Police will try to gain evidence for probable cause to make an arrest. This may include questioning the driver or conducting a field sobriety or breath test.
Critics argue that these stops are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unlawful search and seizures. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990, however, ruled that briefly stopping drivers at checkpoints is constitutional. The court ruled that checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment because the stops are only minimally invasive to drivers and also important to the state’s “grave and legitimate” interest in reducing drunk driving.
Many state courts, however, have ruled against checkpoints at the state level. Some states have laws outlawing sobriety checkpoints, while other state courts others have found they violate the state constitution. However, in the majority of states, drunk driver checkpoints are permitted and not considered to be unreasonable searches. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer to find out about sobriety checkpoints in your state.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sobriety checkpoints have been found to reduce alcohol-related accidents and fatalities by 18% to 24%. According to NHTSA, sobriety checkpoints increase the visibility of law enforcement measures and have a strong deterrent effect. When drivers know they may be passing through an impaired driving roadblock, they may be less likely to venture out or avoid alcohol while driving.
If you are facing drunk driving charges after a sobriety checkpoint, a DUI lawyer could help you learn what steps to take next. In some cases, checkpoints are found to be run incorrectly, which could invalidate evidence of a DUI. Additionally, if an officer did not have reasonable suspicion to test you further, a judge may throw out that evidence. Even if the stop was legal, there may have been problems with the way police measured your BAC.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drunk driving lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drunk driving attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.