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Are DUI checkpoints un-American?

The use of DUI checkpoints to sniff out drunk drivers is a common practice today. However, many believe these checkpoints violate their 4th Amendment rights and that they are unconstitutional.

However, the courts of consistently upheld the legality of DUI checkpoints - as long as a strict set of rules are followed. If these rules are broken, then there may be a case for unconstitutionality.

If you're concerned that your constitutional rights have been violated at a DUI checkpoint, the advice of a good attorney may be helpful.

Constitutional concerns

The 4th Amendment protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. Before stopping or searching you, police must have probable cause that a crime is occurring.

However, DUI checkpoints stop people at random. Police officers don't need to see a driver swerving or otherwise driving improperly to stop them. This means there is a lack of probable cause - the cornerstone of 4th Amendment rights. Because a traffic stop is technically considered seizure under the law, many argue that this is a violation of their constitutional rights.

Determining the legality of checkpoints

DUI checkpoints have been repeatedly challenged in courts throughout the country. While the courts agree there is a lack of probable cause and some intrusion on the driver, they find the intrusion to be minimal.

Courts have upheld DUI checkpoints as constitutional by using a balancing test, instead of the traditional probable cause standard. The balancing test weighs the need for DUI checkpoints - and the benefit they provide to society by getting drunk drivers off the road - against the intrusion the checkpoints pose to the driver. The courts have held that the value the checkpoints provide outweigh the inconvenience to sober drivers.

There are still rules at DUI checkpoints

Although the courts have held that DUI checkpoints are not unconstitutional, this does not mean they are a free for all for police. In Maryland, strict rules govern the operation of checkpoints:

  • Checkpoints must be intended to protect public safety - this is why checkpoints are most common on weekend nights and holiday weekends, times when drunk driving accidents are most common
  • Checkpoints must be publicized ahead of time and approved by a high ranking police official
  • Drivers must be allowed to turn around instead of driving through the checkpoint and risk being stopped
  • Perhaps most importantly, checkpoints must be systematic, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory. Checkpoints must have a predetermined, set routine pattern for stops. For example, every fourth car is stopped. Officers cannot choose to stop certain cars based on race and there must be routine questions asked every car. Police officers do not have discretion to use their own subjectivity to stop or question cars driving through the checkpoint. If they do, then the checkpoint will be deemed unconstitutional and illegal.

Were you stopped at a DUI checkpoint?

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a potential 4th Amendment violation, an attorney can help you determine whether your rights have truly been violated and whether you should seek out compensation for that violation.

Without strong legal help, you may miss out on something that would be important for your rights, and you want to be sure you are treated fairly. Until you speak with an attorney about your particular situation, you may not be sure whether a violation has occurred or what type of compensation would be fair to you.

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