A DUI or sobriety checkpoint is a checkpoint set up by the police to stop cars driving through and look for impaired drivers. When a driver is stopped at a DUI checkpoint, the officer checks for any signs of impairment, such as slurring of their words or the smell of alcohol on their breath, and runs their driver’s license and registration. If the officer has probable cause to believe a driver is impaired, they can conduct a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer, which can lead to the driver’s arrest.
There have been challenges to these checkpoints in court, alleging that they violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that DUI checkpoints do not meet the criteria of an unreasonable search, but has also allowed individual states to determine on their own whether or not to allow these checkpoints. Most states have chosen to allow them.
However, DUI checkpoints do need to meet several specific requirements. There must visible warnings of the checkpoint, including lights and signs, and the amount of time that each motorist is detained must be kept to a minimum. The police department also needs to provide advance notice of the DUI checkpoint to minimize its intrusiveness and improve deterrence of driving under the influence. The officers conducting the DUI checkpoint need to use a set formula to determine which cars to stop, and they can’t simply do it at random, as that could lead to profiling. For example, the officers could stop every car that comes through the checkpoint, or they could stop every fifth car. It’s rare for officers to stop every car because of the time it would take to do so.
DUI checkpoints are most common in the late evening hours and on holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, as police set them up at a time when people often drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The purpose of these checkpoints is two-fold: to arrest drivers who are under the influence, reducing the possibility of an accident, and to deter people from driving under the influence. That’s part of the reason why police departments must provide public notice of their upcoming DUI checkpoints.
Keep in mind that all your same constitutional protections apply when you are at a DUI checkpoint. You don’t need to answer any of the police officer’s questions, and you don’t need to consent to any searches. While some drivers refuse to hand over their license and registration due to the questionable legality of DUI checkpoints, it’s generally best to provide those. One method that some drivers have chosen to use is placing their licenses and registrations in a plastic bag and hanging that bag outside their window with a note explaining that they will not be lowering their window. This is completely legal, as drivers are under no obligation to lower their windows for a police officer at a DUI checkpoint.
While many drivers decide to make a U-turn or find another way to evade DUI checkpoints, remember that police do watch cars carefully as they approach the roadblock. Choosing not to drive through a DUI checkpoint is perfectly legal, and that alone won’t give police a valid reason to pull you over. If you break any traffic laws to evade the checkpoint, such as the aforementioned U-turn, then police will have a valid reason to pull you over.
When stopped at a DUI checkpoint, it’s best to provide the documents that the police ask for and avoid answering any questions. In the event that the police detain you to conduct a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer, you will have to do what they ask. Refusing a breathalyzer will result in the same penalty as driving under the influence.
If you’re arrested at a DUI checkpoint, don’t confess to anything or make any sort of plea deal. Instead, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The police may not have had probable cause to detain you, in which case your lawyer will be able to argue that to the court for your defense.