By Marc Emden, Esq.
DUI checkpoints, otherwise known as sobriety checkpoints, are an exception to the usual rules that police must follow when engaging with members of the public. Police may stop and question a driver at a DUI checkpoint without having any suspicion that the driver is committing a crime.
In the 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of DUI checkpoints, but did not prescribe specific standards for the manner in which police should administer them, so practices vary by state and even by county. In the 1984 case of Little v. State, Maryland’s highest court authorized the use of DUI checkpoints and also prescribed some of the standards to be used when conducting them.
- There must be adequate advance warning of the DUI checkpoint to all approaching drivers.
- The sign announcing the checkpoint must be placed so that a motorist, upon seeing it, will be able to make a lawful U-turn or turn onto a side street before reaching the checkpoint, if she wishes to avoid it.
- At the checkpoint itself, police must have a specific system to determine which cars will be stopped. For example, they can stop all cars, or every fourth car, but they may not randomly select which cars they will stop and which cars they will allow to pass through without examination.
- If police stop a driver at the DUI checkpoint, the law requires that the detention is brief, and the officers must ask him the same pre-determined questions they ask everyone else.
- However, if officers smell alcohol on the driver’s breath, observe open alcohol containers in the car, the driver admits to consuming alcohol, or appears impaired, the police will have probable cause to detain him further.