What happens at a DUI checkpoint? Policeman randomly stop vehicles on a public road and attempt to determine if a driver is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs. Does the officer have to suspect that you have committed a crime? Do they have to witness reckless driving?
Not according to the United States Supreme Court which upheld the right of police officers to conduct DUI checkpoints in Michigan v. Sitz (496 U.S. 444). In this case the United States Supreme Court reviewed a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court which struck down DUI roadblocks as unconstitutional. In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Michigan court, ruling that DUI roadblocks were constitutionally allowed.
Regardless of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution which guards against unreasonable search and seizures, the Supreme Court has decided that the states’ interest in reducing drunken driving outweighs the Constitutional issues of a DUI roadblock.
Several state constitutions, including: Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming do not allow DUI roadblocks, but the majority of the other states do use them to curb DUI and because the rules and regulations for implementing a DUI checkpoint were never clarified by the court, they can vary by state.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), without assistance from the court, has created recommendations that each state may choose to adopt. NHTSA guidelines include:
1. DUI checkpoints must be part of a continued effort to deter drunken driving.
2. The judicial system should favor their use.
3. Procedures for conducting a DUI roadblock should be implemented before their use.
4. DUI roadblocks should have a specific objective to increase public safety.
5. DUI roadblock warnings should be given in advance of the DUI checkpoint.
6. Police should make their presence known at all DUI checkpoints.
7. All suspects who are arrested for DUI must be taken to a facility for DUI chemical testing within a specified period of time.
8. All locations, checkpoint times and procedures should be written.
9. Trained police officers must perform the DUI tests.
10. The flow of traffic should not be impeded or distract other drivers.
11. Drivers should be allowed to make suggestions for the improvement of the roadblocks.
12. Drivers should receive adequate warnings to completely avoid the roadblock.
Many drivers side with the dissenting court position which observed that the Constitution does not make exceptions, as Justice Brennan stated, “That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken driving…it is an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion”. He also noted, “The most disturbing aspect of the Court’s decision today is that it appears to give no weight to the citizen’s interest in freedom from suspicionless investigatory seizures”.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the court’s decision, it is important to understand your rights if you are stopped at a DUI roadblock. If you have been pulled over, if asked, you must present your identification. You do not however, have to admit you have been drinking or submit to any type of sobriety test. Keep in mind refusing to submit to a chemical test may, in some states, result in an automatic license suspension. You always have the right to remain silent and you do not have to provide the police with incriminating evidence to arrest you for DUI.
If you have been arrested for DUI, contact a DUI lawyer. DUI attorneys understand DUI laws and can provide a good DUI defense.