The Legality Of Sobriety Checkpoints

25 October 2019
 Categories: , Blog


A sobriety checkpoint, DWI checkpoint, or DWI roadblock is a section of the road where police officers use a pattern or sequence to stop cars and asses drivers for signs of intoxication. For example, the police may stop every fourth car and evaluate their drivers for signs of impairment.

The Argument or Illegality

Those who argue the illegality of DWI checkpoints use the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to support their claims. According to the Fourth Amendment, every U.S. citizen has the right to move freely without being subjected to unreasonable stops, searches, or seizures. The government should only stop people if there are legal warrants against them and stops without probable cause should only be legal under a few exceptional circumstances.

The argument is that the DWI stops and searches are illegal because they stop people randomly, without a warrant and without probable cause. After all, many sober motorists are stopped and assessed (for intoxication) during DWI stops.

Rationalization for Legality

According to the U.S. Government, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court, DWI stops are legal. Their reasoning is that the need to keep people safe on the road outweighs the 'minor' inconvenience to motorists that might be stopped at those checkpoints. DWIs cause lots of accidents every year and anything that can be done (within reason) to reduce the damages, injuries, and death is welcome.

The Limits

Does this mean that the police have the right to stop every motorist whenever they wish? Far from it, since there are limits as to how far the police can go in their bid to keep people safe from DWI accidents. The circumstances, nature, and handling of every DWI stop determine whether it is illegal or not.

For example, if the police stop you, they should only delay you long enough to determine whether you are sober or intoxicated. The stop will be considered illegal if the police detain you long after they have ascertained your sobriety. Also, the sequence or pattern used to stop motorists must be neutral or unbiased. As such, it would be unfair and illegal for the police to stop only one gender or one race.

State Laws also Matter

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the legality of DWI checkpoints, there were several dissenting voices. Thus, the federal government gives states the leeway to determine whether they want to allow or deny sobriety checkpoints within the states' jurisdictions. Thus, several states have outlawed the checkpoints in their jurisdictions.

As you can see, the issue of the legality of DWI checkpoints is complicated. Federal law, state law, and the circumstances of the stop all come into play. Your best bet, if arrested at a DWI checkpoint, is to consult an experienced attorney to help defend your case.

For more information, contact a DWI attorney in your area.