Murfreesboro DUI attorney

Are Random DUI Checkpoints Legal?

Murfreesboro DUI attorneyIf you drive around at night long enough, there is a good chance will eventually stumble upon a DUI checkpoint. If you are completely sober, stumbling on a DUI checkpoint will be nothing more than a minor nuisance and might make you late to an engagement. If, however, you had a glass of wine or a beer before getting behind the wheel, realizing there is a DUI checkpoint ahead will likely make you very nervous. Either way, you may find yourself wondering how these checkpoints are even legal. A Murfreesboro DUI attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains the legality of DUI checkpoints and what you should do if you encounter one.

Is a DUI Checkpoint a Search and Seizure?

Any discussion about the legality of DUI checkpoints must begin with some background information regarding 4th Amendment search and seizure law. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only allows law enforcement officers to conduct “reasonable” searches and seizures. When a vehicle is stopped, it is considered to be a seizure for purposes of the 4th Amendment. Typically, any search requires a warrant; however, vehicle searches and seizures fall under an exception to the warrant requirement based on a lack of expectation of privacy when driving e vehicle on a public roadway. Nevertheless, a law enforcement officer is normally required to have an articulable reason or a reasonable suspicion, for stopping a motorist. A DUI checkpoint, however, involves stopping every vehicle that passes the checkpoint without the need to provide a reason nor explain why the vehicle was suspicious. Not surprisingly, defendants convicted as a result of being stopped at a DUI checkpoint starting appealing those convictions.

The Supreme Court Weighs In

Appeals from convictions stemming from stops made at DUI checkpoints began to make their way up the legal hierarchy until one eventually made it to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). In the case of Michigan Dep’t of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), SCOTUS decided that the importance of keeping impaired drivers off the road generally outweighs the inconvenience and intrusion to motorists caused by a brief detention in a checkpoint. Therefore, DUI checkpoints are legal. SCOTUS did, however, impose some guidelines for checkpoints that every motorist should be aware of in case you do encounter a checkpoint. For a DUI checkpoint to be legal, all of the following must be adhered to:

  • Checkpoints must be well-planned out ahead of time.
  • It must be obvious to a motorist that they are entering a checkpoint.
  • The location must be safe and lend itself to the purpose.
  • Vehicles and/or drivers cannot be targeted – investigations must be random.
  • Checkpoints must be published ahead of time.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints, individual states can still prohibit them. The reason for this is that while the U.S. Constitution serves as the foundation for our entire legal system, both the federal and state governments may pass laws as long as those laws do not violate the Constitution. In addition, a state may provide a defendant with more rights than the federal government does, but not less. Therefore, even though SCOTUS declared DUI checkpoints to be constitutional, individual states may prohibit them. Iowa and Wisconsin, for example, have statutes that prohibit DUI checkpoints while Oregon, Washington, and Michigan have determined that DUI checkpoints violate their state constitutions. The State of Tennessee, however, is not among the states that prohibit checkpoints.

What Should I Do If I Encounter a DUI Checkpoint?

The same basic rules apply to a DUI checkpoint that apply to a traditional traffic stop. The one difference is that while you must pull over for a traditional stop, you are not required to go through a DUI checkpoint. You can turn around if you can do so safely. Of course, doing so may draw more attention to your vehicle; however, you are legally allowed to do so.

Contact a Murfreesboro DUI Attorney

If you have been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro DUI attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.

Stan Bennett