If You Are Caught In A Sobriety Checkpoint, Make Sure It Is Legal

13 July 2015
 Categories: , Articles


If you have been out drinking with friends, the last thing you want to come across on your way home is a sobriety checkpoint. Even if you do not think you are legally drunk, seeing a manned sobriety roadblock up ahead can cause your heart to pound and your palms to sweat. Although the officers are simply doing their job, what they are doing may, or may not, be legal. If they are illegal, this may allow your DUI attorney to have have your evidence suppressed, and your charges dismissed.

What Do You See Up Ahead?

If you are driving down the road and all of a sudden you see brake lights on the cars ahead of you, it is often either an accident, or a sobriety, or DUI checkpoint. These checkpoints are set up by law enforcement officers to check drivers for signs of impairment. They may be conducted by state or local officers, or even a combination of both. If you are familiar with such sites, what you may not realize is that they are not allowed in every state.

As a matter of fact, 12 states do not allow sobriety checkpoints. They are actually illegal in the following locations:

  • Alaska 
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

They are not allowed in Montana, but officers are allowed to do safety checks. Even in states where they are not allowed, if officers stop you for another reason, and suspect you are intoxicated, you can be arrested at that time.

In the states in which they are allowed, they are held with varying frequency. For example, California has more than 2,500 per year, but Colorado only holds them once or twice per month. This is not the only place these checkpoints vary. 

What Are The Requirements Of A Sobriety Checkpoint?

Every state has rules that govern their sobriety checkpoints. Although selected sites of sobriety checkpoints may often seem to be random, they are often anything but. Much thought and planning usually have gone into these events. Some of the most common requirements are:

1.  The officers involved must be able to at least show why a sobriety checkpoint is needed in that location. These locations must be approved by a supervisor.

For example: If a large festival is taking place at a local lake, and alcohol is being sold and consumed in the area, officers may justify setting up checkpoints. These points may be set up on all of the major roads leading from this location.

2.  Officers must follow the legal procedures for collecting their evidence. They will have to base any charges on one or more of the four types of evidence they gather. These are as follows:

  • Gross observations of the motorist behaviors
  • Field sobriety test
  • Information gathered from questioning
  • Chemical testing on blood, breath, or urine

Based on the above information, you may be arrested, or ticketed with DUI, if the officer has probable or reasonable cause. Once the case comes to court, the officer, who will be represented by the state, will have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

3.  Officers must use some type of neutral formula when stopping cars that come through the checkpoint. They cannot stop one, and then let two go through before they stop another. They must apply the same standard to each and every motorist who comes through.

4.  Sobriety checkpoints must be easily identifiable. This can be done with clearly marked vehicles, personnel, and even signage. Although officers conducting the checkpoint will address any violations they find, such as drivers with no licenses, it does not give officers the freedom to search for anything and everything. Some of the additional things officers are permitted to do at a sobriety checkpoint are:

  • Run a background check for outstanding warrants
  • Verify the validity of your driving license and insurance

They cannot ask every driver to allow them to search their vehicle unless they see open containers, or other illegal items.

5.  Some states also require that sobriety checkpoints be publicized. Sometimes this is through the publication of the anti-drunk driving campaign. Other times the information may be a more specific warning to the public that officers will be out looking for those under the influence. Either of these would meet the criteria to publicize the events.

As you can see, there are many different criteria where things could go wrong. An experienced DUI attorney will know how to look for these discrepancies and use them to your advantage. If you have been charged with DUI, call one before you go to court on your case. They may be able to get your case dismissed. You can click here for info about how a criminal attorney can help you fight a DUI charge.