Saturday, March 7, 2009

DUI and Sobriety Checkpoints

Although many Americans are subjected to random checks for DUI at sobriety checkpoints each year, there is a great controversy over the constitutionality of these checks. Aside from the fact that DUI checkpoints use a huge amount of police resources and seem to be all but an exercise in futility, DUI checkpoints also seem to violate the Fourth Amendment. Opponents of sobriety checkpoints have argued they constitute unreasonable search and seizure, and are therefore unconstitutional.

The argument against checkpoints went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1990, the Court ruled that DUI checkpoints probably were an infringement on Fourth Amendment rights, but that this detail was minor. The Supreme Court found that getting drunk drivers off the road and eliminating potential public safety risks was more important that the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

However, in order for these to be legal, the Court set forth some guidelines for law enforcement. These guidelines generally include:

* Plans for DUI checkpoints must be made by supervising officers and vehicles must only be stopped according to a pre-set pattern. Officers may not decide on the fly to set up a roadblock and pick and choose which drivers to screen.
* The location of DUI checkpoints is to be determined by policymakers, based on DUI statistics, and public and officer safety must be of primary importance.
* DUI checkpoints are to be held for limited periods, to maximize effectiveness and limit intrusiveness. Drivers are to be detained for the least amount of time possible to complete the DUI screening.
* Drivers must be alerted about police roadblocks by visible warning lights and signs. Law enforcement is also required to publish in advance the times and locations DUI checkpoints will be held.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling and guidelines, some states still consider DUI checkpoints unconstitutional. Drivers are not stopped at sobriety checkpoints in Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin or Wyoming.

In any state, drivers who are stopped at sobriety checkpoints and arrested for suspicion of DUI should speak with a DUI lawyer to determine if the arrest was constitutional.

The penalties for a DUI conviction, even if it is your first, can haunt you for the rest of your life. If you've been charged with a DUI - or even better, before you've been charged - know your rights. Your rights can help protect you and your record. The most important, and possibly the most powerful, is the right to a DUI attorney.

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