Is it Legal to Be Detained and Searched at a Sobriety Checkpoint?

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects all citizens against unreasonable search and seizure unless law enforcement has probable cause or an arrest warrant. In 1986, a licensed Michigan driver challenged the legality of sobriety checkpoints and the Michigan courts agreed with him. However, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision. While the Court acknowledged that DUI roadblocks violate a person's constitutional right, Chief Justice Rehnquist argued that the interests in reducing drunk driving outweighs the minor infringement of a citizen's rights.

Which States Allow DUI Roadblocks?

There are currently 38 states and the District of Columbia that conduct sobriety checkpoints. These tools are used by law enforcement to stop drivers at random and search for signs that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are twelve states that prohibit using these types of roadblocks, because they either consider them illegal or the state has not authority to conduct them. These states include:

Name of the State

Reason For Not Conducting Checkpoints

Alaska

State does not have the authority

Idaho

They are illegal under state law

Iowa

The statute allowing roadblocks does not authorize sobriety checkpoints

Michigan

Violates state constitution

Minnesota

Violates state constitution

Montana

Statute permits only safety checks

Oregon

Violates state constitution

Rhode Island

Violates state constitution

Texas

Illegal under Texas' interpretation of federal law

Washington

Violates state constitution

Wisconsin

Prohibited by statute

Wyoming

Prohibited by the state's interpretation of the roadblock statute

Guidelines For Conducting Checkpoints

Each state has their own rules regarding how DUI roadblocks are to be conducted. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has offered some of the following guidelines:

  • All motorists should be warned about an upcoming checkpoint by posting signs in advance
  • They must be used as an on-going program to deter driving under the influence
  • The roadblock should be well lit and police presence should be obvious
  • Investigation techniques must be performed by qualified law enforcement officials
  • The roadblock must take place without impeding the current flow of traffic

The police are supposed to provide a safe turnout area for motorists who choose to not continue through the checkpoint. If a person decides to turn around avoiding the roadblock, they cannot be pulled over for this unless they made an illegal u-turn.

Avoiding a DUI Conviction

Every state has specific guidelines about what tests will be performed during a sobriety checkpoint. Most do not require drivers over the age of 21 to perform field sobriety tests. However, if the individual refuses to submit to a chemical test of their blood, breath or urine, this can have both civil and criminal consequences. An experienced lawyer knows how to successfully challenge a refusal. Police often indicate that the suspect refused a Breathalyzer test, when in fact the person was unable to blow hard enough to measure a result or the machine malfunctioned. If you are arrested for driving under the influence, do not answer any questions from the police until you are represented by legal counsel.

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