Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?

Whether DUI checkpoints are constitutional is a question that vexes many Americans. Some are confused, and others just don’t like that they happen. When people assert that they are not constitutional, they are referring to the Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution that refers to “unreasonable search and seizure.” As a result, some states have outlawed DUI checkpoints, but not many have.

The Supreme Court has ruled against the unconstitutionality of DUI checkpoints, but there is more to the story. Know that if you are in a state and are presented with one, it’s a legal checkpoint. Find out everything you need to know if DUI checkpoints are constitutional right here.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution refers to unreasonable search and seizure laws in the United States. This is the amendment that Americans refer to when they consider DUI checkpoints to be unconstitutional or illegal.

What the law says here is that the police aren’t allowed to stop a vehicle without reasonable grounds or probable cause. The most common reason for traffic stops is moving violations such as speeding. That could give the police reasonable grounds to ask questions about driver impairment.

Other grounds the police need to stop are also driving or vehicle violations. A taillight needs to be broken, tags need to be missing, or the driver might be driving erratically. Any stop like this can lead to a DUI charge if the driver is impaired.

What police aren’t allowed to do is arbitrarily stop a car without cause. That is unconstitutional.

A DUI checkpoint however is an exception to that, as those are regulated by the state constitution, in the state where the checkpoint is located. So, even if you are a resident of another state, you will still be required to participate in a checkpoint in a different state. You could be charged if you are found to be impaired, and it won’t be a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

DUI Checkpoints at the Supreme Court

This is a legal point that has been taken to the Supreme Court. In the 1990 case of the Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Michigan State Police. The Supreme Court did so, saying that there is a strong public interest to keep impaired drivers off of the road. Thus, the benefit of DUI checkpoints outweighs the risk of potential federal Constitutional violations.

This does not mean that the Supreme Court is okay with every single checkpoint stop. If something were to happen where a driver was kept beyond a reasonable amount of time, stronger constitutional arguments could come into question. Most checkpoint stops last approximately 30 seconds, with just a few questions to make sure everyone is driving safely.

For a DUI checkpoint to be legal and constitutional, there are specific requirements in every state. This is a list of most conditions of a legal DUI checkpoint:

  • The location must be made public
  • The checkpoint needs to be visible from a safe driving distance
  • Police presence must be noticeable, and in uniform with marked vehicles present
  • The checkpoint location must be chosen with purpose, for example, there have been a high number of accidents on that road in recent years
  • Intrusion and inconvenience to drivers must be minimal

Call an Expert

If you feel that a roadside stop or DUI checkpoint seemed illegal, talk to a lawyer about what is going on. You might be right. Know that for the most part, DUI checkpoints are legal in the states that have them, but they are considered illegal in some states.

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