In a recent post, we discussed the requirement that Virginia police have reasonable suspicion of a violation before they pull a driver over to check for intoxication. As we noted in that post, however, sobriety checkpoints are a major exception to this rule.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that random DUI checkpoints did not violate the Constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. According to the Court in that case, drunk driving is such a serious threat to public safety that a state’s interest in apprehending drunk drivers overrides any concerns about drivers’ privacy.
Twelve states do not allow sobriety checkpoints. Some of these states have determined that the checkpoints would violate the state’s constitution. Others have concluded that state law either prohibits checkpoints, or provides no authority for them. All other states, including Virginia, permit sobriety checkpoints.
When police set up a sobriety checkpoint, they typically set up a roadblock and stop vehicles according to a predetermined formula, such as every tenth car. This is to comply with prevailing interpretations of constitutional law, which require that vehicles be stopped in a manner that is truly random. The checkpoints are often set up on holiday weekends associated with drinking, such as New Year’s Eve, Labor Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
When a driver is facing DUI/DWI charges after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, there are still defenses available. In order to make an arrest police must have probable cause to believe a driver is intoxicated. Probable cause is usually established through field sobriety tests and a breath test for blood alcohol content level. The motorist can fight the charges though, if there is evidence the tests were inaccurate or improperly administered.
Source: DUI.FindLaw.com, “DUI Checkpoints,” accessed on March 6, 2017