Are DUI Checkpoints Unconstitutional?
When a popular drinking holiday falls on a weekend—such as St. Patrick’s Day this year—police departments throughout Illinois often set up sobriety checkpoints on commonly traveled roadways. As you might expect, the goal of these checkpoints is to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on the road. Some who might otherwise drink and drive may be deterred by the existence of a checkpoint on his or her way home. Others may be stopped at the checkpoint and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).
DUI sobriety checkpoints are fairly commonplace in Illinois, but their use has left many wondering about the constitutionality of stopping drivers without probable cause. At first glance, DUI checkpoints seem to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. The United States Supreme Court, however, determined in 1990 that such checkpoints were an exception to the Fourth Amendment that could be made by states in the interest of public safety.
In early 1986, the Michigan State Police launched a DUI checkpoint pilot program in which checkpoints would be established on state roads. Each vehicle that passed through would be stopped and the officer would quickly examine the driver for signs of being intoxicated. If the officer detected indicators of intoxication, the driver would be directed to pull off the road for further sobriety testing. If no indicators were observed, the driver would be permitted to continue on his or her way.
Before the first checkpoint was ever used, a licensed Michigan driver challenged the legality of such checkpoints. The State Police conducted one checkpoint operation before the courts shut the program down, and two motorists were arrested out of 126 that passed through.
The legal challenge was essentially successful at the state level, as the Michigan Supreme Court held that stopping vehicles without probable cause was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed. In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that sobriety checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court determined that drunk driving was a serious problem and “the measure of intrusion on motorists stopped briefly sobriety checkpoints” was “slight.”
Following the court’s ruling, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a series of guidelines for sobriety checkpoints. The most important is that police departments must publish the dates, times, and location of checkpoints in advance. Each state also has the freedom to customize checkpoint programs to an extent, as long as checkpoints are not conducted in a discriminatory manner. States may also outlaw sobriety checkpoints, and a dozen states have chosen to do so—including Michigan where the original case began.
Facing DUI Charges?
If you or someone you love was arrested at a sobriety checkpoint and charged with DUI, an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney can help you explore your available options. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today. We will remain at your side and ensure that your rights are fully protected every step of the way.