DUI Checkpoints May Prevent Drunk Driving, But Are They Constitutional?

October 4th, 2013 by admin

Here in Pennsylvania, we are one of the many states that allow sobriety checkpoints—roadblocks set up by law enforcement to see that everyone driving is sober. Such checkpoints aren’t allowed in all states, however. Many say the stopping of vehicles without probable cause is unconstitutional and a sign of the growing police state. Here, however, state officials say the checkpoints do far too much good to be considered bad.

According to Philly.com, studies have shown that these checkpoints can reduce alcohol-related crashes by 20 percent. (It isn’t clear who commissioned such studies or how objective they were). They also say that every dollar invested in checkpoints can save the state between $6 and $23 from the crashes they prevent.

DUI checkpointThe number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has decreased in our state since 2004, from 542 that year to 404 last year. The number of people being arrested for driving under the influence has risen. This, supporters say, is evidence that such checkpoints are doing something worthwhile.

Twenty-three years ago, a divided Supreme Court allowed such checkpoints. To this day, some don’t agree with that decision. Twelve states do not allow them. Texas, for example, says that such checkpoints are unconstitutional according to their interpretation.

In order to conduct a search, police must have probable cause. In order to pull you over, they must have reason to believe you have broken a law. In checkpoints, neither of these standards are met. They are, in essence, a violation of your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures (4th Amendment).

Officials want to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road; they want to reduce drunk driving accidents, and that’s understandable. But using saturation patrols, for example, could do more good without violating the constitutional rights of average citizens.

Many police agencies use saturation patrols, where patrol officers saturate a particular area looking for drunk drivers. They don’t set up a checkpoint or pull people over without cause—they look for telltale signs of intoxicated drivers and then attempt to stop them. This is real police work. This is constitutionally sound police work.

And things like saturation patrols have been found to be even more effective than checkpoints as officers aren’t wasting their time with law-abiding and totally sober drivers.

If you’ve been accused of drinking and driving, we may be able to help. Contact our office today to discuss your case and the legal options available to you.

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