What You Need to Know about Sobriety Checkpoints

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

Sobriety checkpoints are one tool law enforcement use to keep the country’s roadways safe. They are also a way officers get around search and seizure restrictions.

If everyone is being pulled over and checked for signs of drunk or drugged driving, they need no probable cause and don’t need to worry about evidence being thrown out for being illegally obtained.

Sobriety checkpoints are set up in high traffic areas and allow law enforcement to inspect many people driving through the area. In most cases, these checkpoints are scheduled for times when there is a known increase in drunk or drugged driving, such as over a holiday weekend. Sobriety checkpoints are especially popular on New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day weekend, and Fourth of July. There might also be local events that trigger sobriety checkpoints.

Over the years, since the rise of sobriety checkpoints, people have asserted they are a violation of 4th Amendment rights, but courts have ruled this isn’t the case, as long as the checkpoints meet certain guidelines, including:

  • Checkpoints are arranged at the supervisory level
  • Limits are placed on the discretion of field officers
  • Checkpoints are safe for both officers and motorists
  • Checkpoints must be located at reasonable, effective locations
  • Checkpoints must be timed to optimize its effectiveness
  • Checkpoints must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock
  • Motorists must only be stopped for just a short time to answer basic questions and look for signs of sobriety

There are also courts that have determined that checkpoint locations and times must be publicized in advance.

Those who believe sobriety checkpoints are legal believe the safety of the many outweighs the rights of a few. The Supreme Court ruled a state’s interest in preventing drunk driving is substantial, and despite 4th Amendment rights being “technically violated,” the violation was worth it.

For a deeper dive into the Supreme Court and the 4th Amendment, check out this article from the Washington Post.

You Still Have Rights at a Sobriety Checkpoint

The good news is even though this violation is legally permitted, you still have rights.

Checkpoints must be set up for a specific period in a specific location. An officer can’t stop you and suddenly decide he or she is creating a sobriety checkpoint. In many cases, you’ll be able to determine the existence of a sobriety checkpoint hours before it begins.

Officers must also treat everyone who travels through the area equally. This doesn’t mean they need to stop every single vehicle, but their actions must be non-discriminatory. For instance, they must stop every vehicle, or every other vehicle, or every fifth vehicle.

Should the checkpoint or any actions taken during the checkpoint be illegal, the charges against you that stem from the stop can be dropped. It’s important you share every detail you can with your attorney because if there was anything untoward during the checkpoint stop, he or she can build a stronger argument in your favor.

Keep in mind, if you find yourself at a checkpoint and you’re concerned about drunk or drugged driving charges, you have the option to not say anything.

Obviously, this could lead to a request to take a field sobriety test, which you can also refuse. There will be consequences to dealing with a sobriety checkpoint this way, but if you’re only other option is to lie to an officer about your alcohol or drug consumption, you’re better off dealing with the fall-out from invoking your 5th Amendment rights and allowing the court system to do its job.

If you’d like to know more about sobriety checkpoints or you were stopped at a checkpoint and it resulted in charges against you, contact criminal defense lawyer David Lindsey to schedule a consultation.

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