DUI roadblocks or sobriety checkpoints are a common tool used to detect the drunk driver. Law enforcement agencies modeled this approach on the success of roadside safety checks and license/registration inspections. In this process the police agency will set up a sobriety checkpoiunt on a highway and if the selected driver's speech sounds slurred or his breath smells of alcohol, he will be asked to leave the car and perform a field sobriety tests at the scene.
In 1990, the United States Supreme Court reversed a state supreme court decision that declared DUI sobriety checkpoints unconstitutional. In Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Court held that the checkpoint operation in question did not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Court's 6-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Rehnquest was not an unexpected result. The ruling recognized that sobreity checkpoints do constitute a "seizure" within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, but the Chief Justice reasoned that the intrusion on individual liberties must be weighed against the need and effectiveness of the roadblock. In the end, the interests in reducing alcohol-related fatalities outweighed the intrusion on human privacy rights and sobriety checkpoints were deemed constitutionally acceptable.
Confronted with a DUI case involving a roadblock/checkpoint, DUI lawyers must consider the adequacy of the procedures employed: Was the sobreity checkpoint conducted in a constitutionally permissible manner? Even Chief Justice Rehnquist implicitly acknowledged that there must exist "guidelines" concerning such matters as location, publicity, and roadblock operation. Note that in Sitz the roadblock was set up only after a "Sobriety Checkpoint Advisory Committee" had been appointed to establish guidelines; this committee consisted of representatives of the state police, local police, prosecutors, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
But what are the "guidelines"? Rehnquist's opinion in Sitz leaves the question of minimal adequacy of such standards unanswered, presumably to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Counsel may find some guidance in the decisions of sister states. In one of the most influential of these pre-Sitz cases, the California Supreme Court set forth what it felt to be the procedural safe-guards required for a DUI sobreity checkpoint to comply with the Constitution. Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P.2d 1299 (Cal. 1987).
For further information about sobriety checkpoints or drunk driving roadblocks, see:
- Current California DUI Checkpoint Locations.
A very partial list of alerts on Facebook for some sobriety checkpoints scheduled in California — primarily in Central and Southern California.
- Los Angeles DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
A current and much more comprehensive list of roadblocks scheduled in Los Angeles County. The site, duiblock.com, also offers monthly subscriptions for DUI checkpoint alerts via yet and email.
- Riverside DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
A similar listing of future and recent checkpoints for Riverside County from duiblock.com.
- San Diego DUI Checkpoints: Recent Alerts
Another set of fairly complete schedules from duiblock.com for sobriety checkpoints, these planned for San Diego County.
- Latest DUI Checkpoint Locations
This Twitter site provides Tweets for scheduled checkpoint locations, with an emphasis on California, Ohio and Florida.
- Latest Orange County DUI Checkpoints
A similar Twitter site but focusing on Orange County, California.
- Sobriety Checkpoint and Checkpoint Issues
A discussion of the constitutionality and merits of sobriety roadblocks from alcohol abuse expert Dr. David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
- Sobriety Checkpoints
An extensive coverage on Wikipedia of the factual and legal issues concerning drunk driving roadblocks: overview, legality, procedures and effectiveness.
- US Supreme Court Decision on Sobreity Checkpoints
Summary of the landmark case of Michigan vs, Sitz, upholding the legality of DUI checkpoints, from the largest DUI information website on the internet, DUIcenter.com.
- National Sobriety Checkpoint Laws
A summary chart from the Governors Highway Safety Association of the sobriety checkpoint laws of 38 states: use of checkpoints, frequency and legality.
The simple fact is that checkpoints are largely wastes of police resources and taxpayer money — not to mention unjustified invasions of privacy. In fact, in the United States Supreme Court decision upholding their constitutionality, a dissenting justice pointed out the “the findings of the trial court, based on an extensive record and affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, indicate that
This is confirmed by federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies, which conclude that “the number of DWI arrests made by the roving patrol program was nearly three times the average number of DWI arrests made by the checkpoint programs”.