The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires any search and seizure conducted by law enforcement to be reasonable. In general, if law enforcement does not have a reasonable suspicion that the driver of a motor vehicle is engaged in criminal wrongdoing, law enforcement is not permitted to stop, or pull over, that vehicle.
However, law enforcement may be able to, under a DUI checkpoint program, conduct brief vehicle stops without having reasonable suspicion. Law enforcement may conduct these stops to briefly check for signs of intoxication as part of the DUI checkpoint program.
A DUI checkpoint is considered important to assist in the special need to prevent injuries and death as a result of drunk driving. This special need outweighs the minimal intrusion on driver privacy experienced during a checkpoint.
During these checkpoints, special needs are being addressed and the program does not leave the vehicles that are stopped to the law enforcement officer’s discretion. So long as the checkpoint requires all vehicles to be stopped, it will not violate the 4th Amendment.
What are DUI Checkpoints?
A DUI checkpoint, also called a DWI checkpoint, includes traffic stops which are placed at random intersections or roadways. They are typically unannounced and conducted in areas and during times in which there is a high amount of traffic.
Law enforcement lay block off a section of the roadway and screen multiple vehicles at once. Because of this, these DUI checkpoints are often referred to as roadblocks. These roadblocks often occur in evening hours or after midnight when drunk driving tends to occur more often.
What is the Purpose of a DUI Checkpoint?
The purpose of a DUI checkpoint is to permit law enforcement to screen drivers and perform sobriety tests on those drivers who they suspect may be driving under the influence. Law enforcement may check for signs such as the smell of alcohol coming from the driver or the appearance of intoxication.
Law enforcement does not need reasonable suspicion to stop any vehicles at a DUI checkpoint. While a DUI checkpoint mainly focuses on preventing drunk driving, it may also serve other purposes, such as:
- Enforcing various roadway safety measures, including:
- seatbelts; and
- other vehicle requirements;
- Allowing law enforcement to check for valid licenses and registrations; and
- Enforcing security measures at a state or international border location.
What if I am Stopped at a Checkpoint?
Whether DUI checkpoints are permitted and how frequently they may be operated varies by state. There are 12 states which do not allow DUI checkpoints at all, which are:
- Rhode Island;
- West Virginia;
- Wisconsin; and
In states where DUI checkpoints are legal, law enforcement officers are permitted to single out drivers, question them, and administer field sobriety tests. Law enforcement is not permitted to pull drivers over randomly, whether for a traffic stop, reasonable suspicion, or a DUI checkpoint.
When is a DUI Checkpoint Considered Legal?
DUI checkpoints are generally permitted pursuant to the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, they must be conducted in a neutral and non-arbitrary manner.
The degree of intrusion upon drivers must be limited and the stop must be motivated by an important governmental purpose. DUI checkpoints may be legally conducted for the following 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; and
- Policing an international or state border.
The main purpose of DUI checkpoints is to maintain highway safety as well as apprehend or detain individuals driving under the influence.
Can I Refuse a DUI Test at Random Checkpoint?
In general, an individual has the right to refuse to take a sobriety test at a random DUI checkpoint. However, it is important to note that there are consequences for doing so. These consequences may apply even if the individual is later found not guilty of driving under the influence.
There are also other consequences which may include actions by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These actions may be both time consuming and complicated.
It is also important to note that each state has different laws regarding DUI checkpoints. For example, DUI checkpoint laws in Texas may be very different from those in Florida.
When is a DUI Checkpoint Unconstitutional?
If a driver claims that a DUI checkpoint was not conducted properly, the court will analyze several factors in order to determine the validity of the roadblock. Factors which may render a DUI checkpoint invalid include:
- The checkpoint was used as a pretense to search for evidence of other crimes without a warrant;
- The checkpoint was not conducted according to neutral guidelines;
- Cars were not stopped randomly or were selected by law enforcement officers in a biased manner;
- The checkpoint was not clearly marked as a DUI checkpoint;
- The checkpoint caused an unreasonable delay or detention for the drivers;
- Advance notice was not given to the public; and
- Safety conditions were disregarded.
The most likely concern regarding DUI checkpoints is searching for evidence of other crimes, such as firearm or drug crimes. Law enforcement officers are not permitted to use a DUI checkpoint as a pretext to conduct a warrantless search for evidence of another crime. Evidence that is illegally obtained during a checkpoint can be suppressed, or thrown out, in court.
Should I Ask for a Lawyer if I am Arrested at a DUI Checkpoint?
If a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that an individual was driving under the influence, they will be arrested and transported to the law enforcement station, or to the hospital for a blood, breath, or urine alcohol test. Upon arresting an individual, law enforcement must read them their Miranda rights, which remind them that they are not required to make any statements that may be used against them.
It is important to note that an individual may request to speak with their attorney at this point. Depending upon what state the individual resides in, the individual may be able to meet with their attorney immediately, such as in Arizona. In some cases, they may be required to wait to speak with their attorney until after they have taken or refused to take a chemical test.
Whether or not the traffic stop or DUI checkpoint was legal as well as other details regarding the individual’s detainment will vary depending on the state. Consulting with an attorney as soon as possible will help protect the individual’s rights as well as help them prepare a successful defense.
A driving under the influence charge is very serious. It may impact the individual’s criminal record, their future ability to operate a motor vehicle, and their future employment prospects. It may also result in jail time.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with DUI Checkpoint Laws?
It is necessary to have an experienced DUI lawyer to help with any DUI checkpoint issues you are facing. As noted above, DUI checkpoint laws are complex and vary by jurisdiction.
It is in your best interest to consult with an attorney as soon as possible regarding any DUI checkpoint issues. Your lawyer will be able to advise you regarding the DUI checkpoint laws in your area and represent you in court, if necessary.