So what is a DUI checkpoint? Are they legal? What are your rights when you roll up on one of these? These are the questions many people ask but answers are not clear. We will answer these questions and provide useful information you can use when you come across a DUI checkpoint.
This Is Why DUI Checkpoints Were Created
Drunk driving is a serious problem in the United States. However, only one arrest is made for every 772 drunk driving trips. In order to effectively reduce drunk driving accidents, the government has utilized their law enforcement resources.
In preventing drunk driving accidents, there are two deterrents usually used:
- Saturation Patrols
- Sobriety Checkpoints
These two are also constant reminders to the general public that impaired driving is a crime. The effectiveness of these deterrent are attributed to the fact that checkpoints and patrols increase the possibility of an arrest.
What is a DUI checkpoint? A DUI checkpoint is a certain point on the road where law enforcement officials observe and evaluate drivers for signs of alcohol or drug impairment.
In this checkpoint, vehicles are stopped in a specific sequence, such as every other vehicle or every third, sixth or ninth vehicle. There is no mandated sequence or frequency that the law enforcement follow. This all depends on the occasion, personnel staff available, and the condition of the traffic.
Saturation patrols, on the other hand, pinpoint a specific area, to identify and arrest impaired drivers. Patrols usually involve a more concerted effort of different governmental agencies that focus their efforts on identifying impaired drivers.
DUI Checkpoints Explained
You no longer have to wonder what is a DUI checkpoint. DUI checkpoints are also known as sobriety checkpoints or roadside safety checks. They are places where law enforcement set up to check for intoxicated or otherwise impaired motorists.
The usual place for a DUI checkpoint is along a busy highway on holidays or special occasions like the 4th of July. In a checkpoint, law enforcement officers check vehicles randomly at regular intervals and observe for signs of intoxication or impairment.
There are two types of checkpoints:
- Full-scale DWI checkpoint
- Small-scale DWI checkpoint
The difference between full and small scale DUI checkpoints is usually due to the number of human resources or personnel involved.
For instance, a full scale DUI checkpoint might use 10 to 12 officers or more. Law enforcement agencies assigned are sworn, uniformed officers who will supervise the planning of the DUI checkpoint. These officers are highly knowledgeable about your state's DUI checkpoint rules and regulations. There will also be someone responsible for the overall operation and staffing of all activity.
Small scale DUI checkpoints, on the other hand, involve only a few personnel. DUI checkpoints are very demanding and some states may only have a small amount of resources to man a full scale checkpoint.
Small-scale DUI checkpoints are actually operated under the same guidelines as a full scale but with only three to five officers. The rest of the team is composed of volunteers. For small scale DUI checkpoints, duties and responsibilities are delegated to all personnel assigned to man the checkpoint. Still, uniformed officers must be present to conduct impaired driver evaluations, and to make arrests when necessary.
What volunteers do is assist with any additional duties that arise in the course of the DUI checkpoint. In both types of DUI checkpoints, the safety and convenience of motorists and law enforcement personnel are top priorities.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
In the process of finding our what is a DUI checkpoint you may also wonder if they are legal. So, are DUI checkpoints legal?
DUI checkpoints have been very controversial at the state level especially with regard to its legality. However, under federal law, these checkpoints are legal.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints. The Court held that sobriety checkpoints do not constitute illegal search and seizure in most states provided that they are conducted properly.
The Court further stated that the public interest in reducing the incidence of drunk driving was sufficient to justify the intrusion in one’s privacy during a properly conducted DUI checkpoint.
Even though DUI checkpoints are controversial, most states allow it. They are generally free to decide whether or not to follow the federal rules on conducting DUI checkpoints.
However, to avoid any infractions under the law, many state guidelines on DUI checkpoints merely supplements that of the federal government’s. If a checkpoint complies with the federal requirements, it does not violate the United States Constitution.
Most states have decided the issue under their own constitutions as well. For instance, many states require prior notice of the checkpoint to the public. In stricter states, a police study is needed to show why a checkpoint location is needed in that area.
DUI checkpoints are not allowed in 12 states because they are either considered illegal by law or state constitution. In other cases, the state lacks authority to conduct them. Here is the list of these states:
- Washington - Illegal by state Supreme Court decision
- Alaska - No state authority
- Idaho - Illegal under state law
- Iowa - Statute authorizing roadblocks does not permit sobriety checkpoints
- Michigan - Illegal under state constitution
- Minnesota - Illegal under state constitution
- Montana - State law only permits "safety spotchecks"
- Oregon - Illegal under state constitution
- Rhode Island - Illegal by state Supreme Court decision
- Texas - Illegal under state's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution
- Wisconsin - Illegal under state law
- Wyoming - Illegal under interpretation of roadblock statute
DUI Arrest At A Checkpoint
Being arrested in a DUI checkpoint can devastating. In case this happens to you or anyone you know, contact a specialized attorney immediately. You must first familiarize yourself with what to look for in a good DWI attorney.
A skilled attorney who specializes drinking and driving laws can evaluate all the facts of the case, including the legality of a DUI checkpoint, to ensure that legal rights of the arrested person are well protected. A skilled attorney will know what is a DUI checkpoint inside and out.