DUI Checkpoints

Sobriety Checkpoints photo DUI checkpoints are a common tool, but far from the best, in the identification and arrest of drunk drivers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Diego and throughout California. Although its accuracy and efficiency is questionable, 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 checkpoint on a highway and if the selected driver exhibits any symptoms of DUI, he will be asked to leave the car and perform 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. Although not addressing issues of accuracy of the procedure or whether it was the best approach to DUI detection, the Court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S, 444 (1990) that the DUI checkpoint 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 DUI checkpoints do constitute a "seizure" within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment, but the Chief Justice reasoned that the intrusion of sobriety checkpoints on individual liberties must be weighed against the best interests of government in the ability of DUI roadblocks to identify with some accuracy drunk drivers. In the end, and even though DUI checkpoints may not be the best or most accurate law enforcement method, the Court held that the interests of government in identifying DUI drivers and reducing alcohol-related fatalities outweighed the intrusion on human privacy rights, and sobriety checkpoint were deemed constitutionally acceptable.

Confronted with a case involving a DUI checkpoint, DUI lawyers must consider the accuracy and adequacy of the procedures employed: Was the sobriety checkpoint conducted in the best and most 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 DUI roadblock was set up only after a "Sobriety Checkpoint Advisory Committee" had been appointed to establish the best 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" for a DUI checkpoint? Rehnquist's opinion in Sitz leaves the question of minimal adequacy of such standards for a sobriety checkpoint unanswered, presumably to be determined on a case-by-case basis. When confronted with a DUI checkpoint issue, defense counsel may find his best guidance in the decisions of sister states. In one of the most influential of these post-Sitz DUI roadblock cases, the California Supreme Court set forth what it felt to be the best procedural safe-guards required for a DUI sobriety checkpoint to comply with the Constitution. Ingersoll v. Palmer, 743 P.2d 1299 (Cal. 1987).


For the best information with the greatest accuracy on where DUI checkpoints are being scheduled near you, review the following resources:


The simple fact is that DUI checkpoints are not the best tool for the detection of drunk driving, and 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 the net effect of sobriety checkpoints on traffic safety is infinitesimal and possibly negative.

This is confirmed by the federal governments 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 DWI checkpoint programs.

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