Rules and Obligations of Sobriety Checkpoints


Law enforcement agencies must ensure sobriety checkpoints are constitutionally permissible. Unlawful searches and seizures cannot be part of these checkpoints, as they violate constitutional law. However, when appropriate conditions exist, no violations occur.

To ensure no violations arise, law enforcement must plan out sobriety checkpoints with an approved list of guidelines affecting how the entire procedure is performed and implemented. The guidelines often include how law enforcement may search vehicles, when the checkpoints are initiated, how many vehicles are checked or how many vehicles are skipped and other related stipulations

When creating a checkpoint, the backing of local and city government assists in the success of these methods. A successful sobriety checkpoint may be one of many or a routine to ensure less harm befalls those driving on the roads, highways and freeways of the city or state. These procedures best work when they are part of a program to eliminate DUI violations. This ensures a plan is always in place as well as standard procedures are implemented in checkpoint operations. Smoother arrests may be completed and completion of checkpoints may be concluded with minimal issues.

Constitutionally Permissible Checkpoints

Through the Fourth Amendment, the United States Constitution protects American citizens from unlawful and illegal searches by law enforcement as well as seizure of property. However, checkpoints are permitted and not considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment due to stipulations the United States Supreme Court deliberated. Additionally, state supreme courts allow these per state when certain conditions are met. This ensures that under state and federal laws no violations take place against American people.

When a state has an interest in eliminating or reducing drunk driving, it works better to add checkpoints to this program of stamping out intoxication on the road. These programs are often the reason courts allow checkpoints as a valid method for law enforcement. Some courts balance the interest of the state in preventing collisions through intoxicated drivers against the effectiveness of these sobriety checkpoints in assisting in reducing or eliminating the threat these drivers cause. Other factors such as the level of intrusion these methods cause against a person’s privacy through the checkpoints and how the processes run are considered.

Why Checkpoints are Opposed

The importance of personal privacy and the right to keep searches and seizures to a minimum through warrants is a concern when involving checkpoints. Various parts of state government have voiced apprehension that these methods may eventually allow law enforcement to overstep its bounds. The worry is that privacy is intruded and searches are performed that lead to arrests when they normally would not, seizure of property occurs when the items would not have been taken under normal circumstances and many false arrests may have transpired through these actions. 

While the concerns may be valid, these checkpoints are created through a plan with very rigid guidelines set forth by both federal and state governments. When these stipulations are not followed, the checkpoint arrests are invalidated and may be reversed. The announcement of a checkpoint prior to its implementation allows drivers to select an alternate route or remain home or elsewhere until the processes are completed. Additionally, not all vehicles are checked. All of these guidelines and stipulations often cover all concerns of intrusion of a person’s privacy as well as unlawful seizure of property.

Reasonable Manner of Search and Seizure

Some states oppose using checkpoints due to the belief that personal privacy is more important. This restricts law enforcement from implementing a program to make the roads safer for the entire state. However, for those that allow these methods and procedures, a determination has been issued. When these sobriety checkpoints are used, they must be implemented in a reasonable manner. No independent searches other than those proposed by the plan may transpire. No person may be indiscriminately singled out based on any factor or bias. Suspicion of intoxication may allow additional searches, but no opinion about a driver, vehicle or any related aspect may allow law enforcement to search the vehicle. Only neutral criteria may be used to implement these methods. A judge often is needed to approve a sobriety checkpoint before it may be used by police officers. 

Other Stipulations

The location a checkpoint is performed at must have a history of traffic offenses, accidents, violations and other issues attached to it to make the area a viable spot for a sobriety checkpoint. The road must be clearly marked with signs and warnings about an upcoming checkpoint. The area must be populated with police officers conducting the searches with clear visibility of who they are.