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Sobriety Checkpoints and Civil Liberties

The  fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights states that:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmations, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Thus the Constitution protects drivers from being stopped without a search warrant or at least “probable cause.”

The Michigan Supreme Court found sobriety checkpoints to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  However, in a split decision, the US Supreme Court reversed the Michigan Court, thus allowing roadblocks but under certain conditions. Although acknowledging that such roadblocks violate a fundamental constitutional right, Chief Justice Rehnquist argued that they are necessary in order to reduce drunk driving.  That is, he argued that the end justifies the means.   This is “the DUI exception to the Constitution.”

Now the question: Do Sobriety Checkpoints violate our individual liberties?

Unconstitutional Sobriety Checkpoints, that violate a person’s right to privacy and violate their protection from unwarranted search and seizure, are not the answer to solving the Drunk Driving issue. Other methods need to be adopted that target the root of the problem, instead of subjecting all drivers to unnecessary suspicion and time delays.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), strongly promotes sobriety roadblocks implying that they are legal throughout the entire nation without exception. It says that “the U.S. Supreme Court on June 14, 1990 upheld the use of sobriety checkpoints to detect and deter impaired drivers. Previous appeals to the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of such checkpoints had been declined, which allowed high state court rulings to stand. The June 14, 1990 ruling clearly upheld the constitutionality of such enforcement measures.”

Critics of roadblocks are discredited and even finger pointed as being drunk themselves.  MADD stated, that “opponents of sobriety checkpoints tend to be those who drink and drive frequently and are concerned about being caught.”

However, many people who disagree with roadblocks are people of good will who have valid reasons for their concerns.

The biggest problem with sobriety checkpoints is the legal concept of “reasonable suspicion.” Just because an individual is driving down the highway does not mean that the driver is committing some crime and should not be subject to such suspicions. If a search and seizure is conducted at a roadblock, it is highly contestable in court because proper reasonable suspicion protocol was not followed.  Police officers should not hold a blank check to the right of search and seizure, and a roadblock detainment has been ruled as a “seizure” by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Furthermore, before a sobriety checkpoint can be considered ‘legal’, it must be explicitly authorized by statutory law and only operate for 2 hours at a time.

Opponents of roadblocks also cite that they are unproductive and don‘t help us make the best decisions about how to reduce impaired and drunk driving.

So why is it that 11 states currently prohibit sobriety checkpoints within their boundaries?  It is high time that Georgia joins this group of states that give their citizens more protections against unreasonable search and police sobriety roadblocks are prohibited.

Anyone charged with DUI as a result of a sobriety checkpoint should consider retaining an effective and experienced criminal defense attorney who can investigate the arrest and put together a strong defense that minimizes or eliminates the damage of a DUI conviction. Call the The Law Offices of Douglas B. Chanco Today!   1-855-9-ATL-DUI

 Sobriety Checkpoints

Eleven states currently prohibit suspicion-less checkpoints within their boundaries. These states appear in green to the right & include:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

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