Man Drinking in his Car

What are DUI checkpoints?

Checkpoints are a common tool police in most states use to check for intoxicated or impaired drivers on the road.

During a DUI or sobriety checkpoint, law enforcement officers are stationed to check motorists for signs of drinking or impairment.

DUI arrests at sobriety checkpoints are most common during the holidays, especially the 4th of July, Cinco de Mayo, and Memorial Day. Sometimes people who are arrested on a first-time DUI offense at a checkpoint are released on their own recognizance (OR) but other cases require a bail bond to be released from jail before the trial.

DUI checkpoints are a controversial issue and are not even legal in some states, although they are legal under federal law as long as law enforcement follow specific guidelines.

Rules for DUI Checkpoints

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a compelling reason to eradicate drunk driving and public safety outweighs concerns of intrusion into the privacy of drivers. This ruling means that sobriety checkpoints are not considered an unreasonable search under the 4th Amendment. While federal law allows for sobriety checkpoints, states can choose whether or not to allow them. 12 states do not perform DUI checkpoints because they are illegal by state constitution or law or the state does not have the authority to conduct them. These states include Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

In states that allow sobriety checkpoints, law enforcement must follow specific rules for an arrest to be valid. Courts require that DUI checkpoints be determined by a policy-making official with reasonable creation and operation for the checkpoint to be legal. This means an official must have a logical reason for creating a checkpoint at a specific location. Courts typically require several criteria be met for a valid checkpoint:

  • Adequate safety measures, including warning signs, signals, or lights
  • Motorists must be stopped in a neutral fashion with the same standard applied to every vehicle
  • How a checkpoint is operated and how long it lasts must reflect good judgement
  • The location and time of the checkpoint must be advertised in advance to the public.

What to Do at a DUI Checkpoint

Any search, even at a sobriety checkpoint, must be reasonable. Typically, a checkpoint stop involves a brief conversation with an officer and a request for your license and insurance information. If the officer detects signs of drug use or drinking, they may ask you to perform field sobriety tests or submit to a breathalyzer test. These tests can only be requested if the officer observes signs of intoxication.

It’s still important to remember your rights at a checkpoint. Police are allowed to stop you briefly to check for signs of impairment, but they cannot search you or your vehicle without probable cause that you are under the influence or you give consent.

You have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests at a checkpoint or during a regular DUI stop. Field sobriety tests are different than chemical (blood or breathe) tests under the law and they are notoriously inaccurate. It is possible for sober people to fail these roadside tests.

Can You Avoid a Sobriety Checkpoint?
You are not obligated to proceed through a DUI checkpoint. In fact, police departments are required to advertise the location, date, and duration of these checkpoints ahead of time. If you can do so without breaking traffic laws, such as an illegal U-turn, you can turn around and avoid the checkpoint. Sobriety checkpoints are legal as a reasonable search under the 4th Amendment, but you are only required to submit if you pass through the checkpoint and are selected.

Read More: DUI Checkpoints in California

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