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DUI Checkpoints

Driving under the influence (DUI) checkpoints, also known as sobriety checkpoints or roadside safety checks, are temporary roadblocks set up to allow law enforcement officers to screen drivers for signs of impairment and intoxication. Typically, police set up these checkpoints along busy highways during holidays notorious for alcohol abuse, such as the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

Checkpoints usually consist of roadblocks along intersections. Officers stop random vehicles at regular intervals, such as every tenth driver, and check for signs of intoxication. DUI or sobriety checkpoints remain controversial and are prohibited in some states. Still, these checkpoints are legal in most states and federal law supports their legality.

This article discusses the legal justification for DUI checkpoints before addressing sobriety checkpoints and state laws. Finally, the article discusses the effectiveness of checkpoints and whether you can refuse to go through a checkpoint. See FindLaw's DUI Stop section for more related articles.

The Legal Justification for DUI Checkpoints

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that states have a compelling interest in eradicating drunk driving and that public safety concerns outweigh any concerns about intrusion into drivers' privacy rights. That's the legal justification for DUI checkpoints.

The challengers in the case before the Supreme Court claimed the checkpoints were unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment. The Court, however, found the searches reasonable under the circumstances. No probable cause is needed for police to stop you at a checkpoint.

Checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by about 20%, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control report combining the results of 23 scientific studies. Sobriety checkpoints have survived most legal challenges. That's the case even in states where statutes require an officer to have reasonable suspicion of intoxication before initiating a traffic stop. Reasonable suspicion that a motorist is drunk and thus subject to a stop, may be established by:

  • Erratic driving
  • Drifting between lanes
  • Other suspicious behavior

Sobriety Checkpoints and State Laws

Federal law condones checkpoints to further the goal of maintaining safer roadways. Still, states are free to decide whether or not to use checkpoints. DUI checkpoints aren't conducted in 12 states. In those states, checkpoints are considered illegal by law or state constitution, or the state lacks authority to conduct them.

Below is the list of states where police can't subject you to a DUI checkpoint:

  • Alaska - No state authority
  • Idaho - Illegal under state law
  • Iowa - Statute authorizing roadblocks doesn't permit sobriety checkpoints
  • Michigan - Illegal under the state constitution
  • Minnesota - Illegal under the state constitution
  • Montana - State law only allows "safety spot-checks"
  • Oregon - Illegal under the state constitution
  • Rhode Island - Illegal by state Supreme Court decision
  • Texas - Illegal under the state's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution
  • Washington - Illegal by a state Supreme Court decision
  • Wisconsin - Illegal under state law
  • Wyoming - Illegal under the interpretation of the roadblock statute

How Effective Are DUI Checkpoints?

There's disagreement as to whether DUI checkpoints are effective. The goal of checkpoints isn't to arrest more people, but rather to deter driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Checkpoints don't lead to that many arrests of drunk drivers. However, the fact that checkpoints are associated with reduced crash rates suggests that they successfully deter driving while intoxicated. It's harder to prove cause and effect.

Can You Refuse To Go Through a DUI Checkpoint?

If you're already at a DUI checkpoint, you must comply with a police officer's request to stop and provide your driver's license. Refusing to comply can lead to an arrest and possibly even jail time.

However, checkpoints are usually highly visible. If you can safely and legally make a U-turn to avoid approaching a checkpoint, you can do so. Be mindful not to violate any traffic laws.

Learn More About DUI Checkpoints by Speaking to a DUI Attorney

If you're arrested for impaired driving, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced DWI/DUI lawyer. A skilled attorney specializing in defending drunk driving charges will evaluate all the evidence, including the legality of a DUI checkpoint stop and how any field sobriety tests were conducted, to protect your legal rights in a DUI case. A DUI defense attorney can craft a criminal defense to your DUI charges after a DUI arrest and can help ensure your constitutional rights aren't violated.

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