Many years ago police officers realized that they cannot always catch people in the act of drunk driving. In order to try and crack down on what the officers considered dangerous activity and reduce the number of DUI drivers a novel idea was born: the DUI checkpoint.
DUI Checkpoint Defined
Officers will set up a block at a usually busy intersection or stretch of highway. As motorists drive by the police will stop every third vehicle or every other one and give them directions to pull over into an adjoining area. The local police precinct is required to notify the public in advance of the DUI checkpoints as well as providing a written explanation to people that are stopped.
More Than Just Drunk Driving
Although the original intent of these stop points was to find people driving under the influence the actual use of the checkpoints has expanded considerably. Once the officer has obtained the driver's license and vehicle registration from the motorist a host of items can be checked. People that have outstanding warrants have been arrested after stopping at a checkpoint. Several individuals that were under the influence of drugs or in possession of illegal items such as cocaine and marijuana have also been carried away from a checkpoint by the law. Probably one of the biggest side affects of a DUI checkpoint is catching a significant number of people who are operating an automobile without a proper license or under suspension of their license.
Is Drinking and Driving Illegal?
One of the biggest misconceptions about these checkpoints is that anyone who has been drinking will be arrested. According to the federal law that has been adopted by nearly every state a person 21 years of age and older is considered DUI if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08%. Guess what that means? If a person has a BAC of .03% they are perfectly legal in safely driving their car home. However, people that have gone through a DUI checkpoint with alcohol on their breath have been detained, questioned, had their car searched and many times arrested even though they were not impaired nor driving erratically. This brings us to the next crucial point.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
Based on the strict interpretation of the United States Constitution, police officers do not have the right to stop anyone without a clearly defined reason. This is the probable cause argument that is must be proved so many times in court. The officer must witness something that leads him or her to believe that a driver may be committing a criminal act, such as driving under the influence. Therefore, it does not seem that a DUI checkpoint would be legal since the authorities are merely stopping anyone and everyone without cause and then conducting a search.
This issue was raised in a Michigan criminal case, Michigan vs Sitz and the legality of the checkpoints was challenged. The court agreed that the checkpoint violated the constitution. However, the case was appealed and reached the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the checkpoints were indeed in line with the intent of the constitution.
Judge Rehnquist, the chief Justice of the Supreme Court at that time, explained in his majority opinion that he agreed the checkpoints were a form of seizure. This is in direct violation of the constitution. However, in order to reduce the number of DUI offenders on the road and deter future drunk drivers Justice Rehnquist felt that this act was minor in comparison to the number of lives that could be spared. In other words, the end result held more importance than the means used to arrive at those results.
However, the judges that voted against the legality of the DUI checkpoints pointed to the clear language of the constitution. There are no exceptions provided in the law. People can only be stopped if they appear to be committing an illegal act. Stopping everyone in a line of traffic violates the personal freedom of innocent persons.
Police officers are not lawyers. Therefore they do not understand the finer details of every law. If you have gone through a DUI checkpoint and were arrested for DUI, contact a lawyer immediately. It is likely that the officers committed an error in their search and investigation and your case can be dismissed.