Examining the Legality of the DUI Checkpoint

Do I have to comply with field sobriety testing if requested at a DUI checkpoint?

DUI checkpoints are a source of much fear and confusion for many drivers.  Law enforcement officers nationwide set up DUI checkpoints in an effort to uncover intoxicated drivers.  DUI checkpoints were initially developed internationally in the 1930s and became common across America by the 1980s.  After receiving much criticism by individual citizens and some advocacy groups, the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints was challenged and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Our Phoenix, Arizona DUI defense lawyers examine some important issues as to the legality of DUI checkpoints and answer your questions as to whether you must comply below.

Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz

A group of Michigan citizens filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of sobriety or DUI checkpoints on the grounds that the stop violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.  The United States Supreme Court took up the case and ruled in 1990 that sobriety checkpoints should be upheld as constitutional. The court weighed the government’s substantial interest in stopping drunk driving against the minimal, as the court termed it, invasion in driver’s privacy.  The balancing test, it concluded, came out in favor of the government.

While federally DUI checkpoints have been deemed constitutional, not all states have reached the same conclusion.  Currently, 38 states allow for warrantless DUI checkpoints. Arizona is one of these states. The state’s highest court has found that the gravity of drunk driving justifies the need to stop drivers.  This does not mean, however, that all stops are legal. DUI checkpoints in Arizona must meet certain requirements to be considered valid.

DUI Checkpoints vs. Saturation Patrols

In the state of Arizona, both saturation and DUI checkpoints are commonplace.  Saturation checkpoints involve increased patrolling in certain areas with officers looking for signs of drunk driving.  An officer can only stop a vehicle with reasonable suspicion during a saturation patrol.

DUI checkpoints, on the other hand, involve law enforcement officers setting up a roadblock to randomly stop drivers and check for signs of intoxication.  To be considered a legally valid checkpoint, it is important that the decision as to where and when to set up the checkpoint be made by supervisory law enforcement personnel.  Further, cars must be stopped in a predetermined neutral manner (i.e. every car, every fourth car, etc.). The officers must clearly identify themselves and the checkpoint as such.  Care shall be taken to minimize the length of the stop.

Your Rights At a DUI Checkpoint

Typically, DUI checkpoint locations will be advertised locally before they occur. Check your local news and plan to avoid these areas if you do not wish to become part of a DUI checkpoint.  Should you see the flashing lights of a checkpoint ahead, remain calm and collected. Know that you are not legally required to go through a checkpoint and may be able to lawfully turn on a different road. However, never perform any illegal driving maneuvers to avoid a checkpoint and understand that turning away when in close proximity to a checkpoint could raise suspicions.  

If you are stopped at a checkpoint, anticipate the officer requesting your license and registration.  Your behavior will be under close scrutiny at this point. Some legal advocacy groups have championed for leaving your window up at a stop and attaching your license and registration to the window.  While this may work in some states and situations, it could also raise officer suspicion and cause the situation to escalate. If an officer requests that you perform a field sobriety test, do so at your own risk.  You have the right to refuse these tests and your behavior during them could ultimately lead to your conviction. The most important thing you should do is contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible after your stop.