Suwanee GA DUI / DWI Blog

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Constitutionality of DUI Checkpoints

Are DUI checkpoints legal?

DUI or sobriety checkpoints became commonplace in the United States by the 1980s.  A DUI checkpoint allows law enforcement officers to stop vehicles traveling on set roads to determine if the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  While sobriety checkpoints can happen at any time, law enforcement officers tend to use DUI checkpoints on days when they know people may be drinking and driving.  New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July are two of the most common holidays for DUI checkpoints.  
Despite the use of sobriety checkpoints nationwide, many have called into question the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints.  Our Atlanta DUI defense attorneys explore the legality of DUI checkpoints below.

U.S. Supreme Court Holds DUI Checkpoints Are Legal

In 1990, the United States Supreme Court weighed the issue of the constitutionality of sobriety checks.  The high court first considered the legality of the checkpoint under the Fourth Amendment.  Per the Fourth Amendment, people have a right against unreasonable searches and seizures.  A search is generally deemed reasonable when an officer has probable cause. In the case of a DUI checkpoint, however, officers do not have individualized probable cause for each stop. 
The Supreme Court held in its seminal case of Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz that when the seizure is minimally intrusive, as in a sobriety check, the court will instead use a balancing test.  The majority held that the needs of the state to prevent drunk driving outweigh the intrusion to drivers.  As such, DUI checkpoints were declared constitutional federally. 

Georgia’s Law on DUI Checkpoints 

Despite the Supreme Court’s holding, each state further has its own applicable state and case laws.  At present, Georgia is one of 38 states that permits warrantless DUI checkpoints.  However, several important appellate court cases have successfully challenged sobriety checkpoints.  In the Georgia Supreme Court case of Brown v. State (2013), the court held that law enforcement officers must have a set of written and published protocols and follow a proper chain of command in order for the DUI check to be legal.  Each DUI checkpoint case should be examined under the Fourth Amendment and checkpoints that are arbitrary or used for contextual reasons may be deemed unconstitutional.  
If you have been arrested for a DUI following a sobriety check, you may be able to fight the charges against you.  Contact a DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible.  Your attorney will act quickly to investigate the charges and mount your strong defense. 

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