Are DUI Checkpoints Illegal?


Oftentimes, local law enforcement agencies will set up checkpoints alongside roads to detect drivers who are travelling under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who are travelling with alcohol in their system that is above the legal limit. It’s most common around the holidays when the authorities know that more folks are going to be out drinking and driving, like Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.

Since the DUI checkpoints consistently ensnare folks who have not been drinking and driving, questions rapidly came up about whether these checkpoints were an unreasonable process of search and seizure. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on that question within a 1990 decision and found that DUI checkpoints are indeed a valid and legal method of law enforcement. Follow along as Matthew Gould assists in explaining the answer to that burning question: Are DUI checkpoints illegal?

The Fourth Amendment and DUI Checkpoints

The U.S. Constitution and the Fourth Amendment states that individuals have a right against the unreasonable process of searches and seizures. Searches often will include a search warrant issuance, but not always. A search and seizure may happen without a warrant underneath specific circumstances so long as the search is reasonable.

The majority of the time, a search is reasonable if there’s probable cause for the authorities to believe that it’s necessary. For example, a search incident to an arrest generally is considered reasonable since there’s already probable cause to think that the subject of the search did something wrong.

A search and seizure that randomly occur or that are too intrusive or burdensome, however, generally won’t be considered reasonable by the court. Any proof acquired as a result of this type of search is going to be removed from the official record in a court case.

Enough Probable Cause?

A DUI checkpoint poses an intriguing application of the rules of the Fourth Amendment. Stopping the car’s driver is considered a seizure as the individual must pull over and cannot leave again until the law officer permits it. As the law officers at the DUI checkpoint stop each driver without any personalized suspicion, it’d appear at first that the authorities wouldn’t have enough probable cause to perform the seizure of the drivers.

However, in specific cases in which the kind of seizure is minimally intrusive, the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that a balancing test is more suitable for determining the reasonableness of a search than the standard of probable cause. In a case that concerned DUI checkpoints mentioned inside the introduction to this post, Michigan Department of State Police versus Sitz, most of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices found that the needs of the state to keep drunk-driving accidents from occurring outweighed the minimal intrusion upon sober drivers who get caught up in the DUI net. Thereby, the Justices argued that DUI checkpoints didn’t constitute unreasonable searches and seizures.

For more information on DUI checkpoints contact the criminal defence representation of Matthew Gould today!