A DUI Sobriety Checkpoint, or “roadblock”, is a public area where police officers may detain drivers in order to determine whether they are intoxicated. Sobriety checkpoints are usually conducted on a heavily trafficked public road, during hours when motorists are likely to be driving drunk (such as after midnight or during holidays).
Unlike a regular traffic stop, police do not need reasonable suspicion to stop or question suspects at a sobriety checkpoint. While the driver is still in the car, the police officer will look for signs that the person may be intoxicated. For example, the officer may take not of slurred speech, smells of alcohol, or uncoordinated physical movements.
If the driver appears to be intoxicated, they may be subjected to a field sobriety test for further evaluation.
When Is a Sobriety Checkpoint Considered Legal?
Sobriety checkpoints are generally permitted under the 4th Amendment of the constitution. However, they must be conducted in a manner that is neutral and non-arbitrary. The degree of intrusion on motorists must be limited, and the stop must be motivated by an “important government purpose”.
Sobriety checkpoints may be legally conducted for the following “important government purposes”:
- Preventing and deterring drunk driving
- Checking for a driver’s license and vehicle registration
- Enforcing highway safety measures, such as seatbelt or headlight requirements
- Policing an international or state border
Thus, the main purpose of roadblock sobriety checkpoints is to maintain highway safety and to apprehend or detain drunk drivers.
When Is a Sobriety Checkpoint Unconstitutional?
If a motorist claims that a sobriety checkpoint was not conducted properly, a court will analyze several factors to determine the validity of the roadblock. Some factors that might render a sobriety checkpoint invalid include:
- The roadblock was used as an excuse to search for evidence of other crimes without a warrant
- The sobriety checkpoint was not conducted according to neutral guidelines
- Cars are not stopped randomly or are selected by officers in a biased manner
- The checkpoint was not clearly marked as a sobriety checkpoint
- The roadblock caused an unreasonable delay or detention for the drivers
- Advance notice was not given to the public
- Safety conditions were disregarded
Probably the most common concern regarding sobriety checkpoints is that of searching for evidence of other crimes, such as drug or firearm crimes. Police officers may not use sobriety checkpoints as a pretext to conduct a warrantless search for evidence of other crimes. Evidence that is illegally obtained during a sobriety checkpoint may not be used as evidence in a court of law.
Some states prohibit roadblocks, and require police officers to have reasonable suspicion before stopping any vehicle.
Do I need a Lawyer for Issues Regarding a Sobriety Checkpoint?
It is important that you follow instructions and conduct yourself in a cooperative manner during a sobriety checkpoint. You may wish to contact an attorney if you believe that a sobriety checkpoint was improperly conducted.
Sobriety checkpoints are a somewhat recent addition to the law, and each state may have different guidelines for the roadblocks. An experienced DUI/DWI lawyer will be able to explain your individual state’s DUI laws in a manner that is clear and helpful for your case.