DUI Checkpoints and the 4th Amendment

The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The general rule regarding driving under the influence (DUI) cases, according to a DUI attorney in Grand Rapids, is that law enforcement must have probable cause that a driver is engaged in some sort of illegal activity to stop and detain them. Otherwise, the stop is unlawful and any evidence obtained after the stop may be excluded.

A DUI checkpoint, however, requires certain drivers to stop and subject themselves to law enforcement investigation without any probable cause. On its face, a DUI attorney in Grand Rapids suggests that this appears to be a clear Constitutional violation.


The Supreme Court, however, disagrees; it has ruled that a properly conducted DUI checkpoint does not violate the search and seizure protections of the 4th Amendment. Ironically, the case that reached the Supreme Court addressing checkpoints originated in Michigan; Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz 496 U.S. 444 (1990).


When law enforcement conducts a DUI checkpoint, not every car is stopped; that would prove impractical. Rather, selected cars are directed to pull over to some designated area where a police officer questions the driver in an effort to determine whether a DUI arrest is appropriate. The criterion for what cars are detained is the first issue.
The Supreme Court ruled that neutral criteria must be used in determining which vehicles are to be pulled over. Therefore, if a car is detained based on the race of the driver, the age of the driver or the vehicle type, for example, that may constitute an illegal stop. To comply with this standard, DUI checkpoints typically pull over a certain numerically based number of cars—every third or fifth car, for example.


There are other standards the Supreme Court has established in balancing the burden on the driver and the public interest of maintaining safe highways. A DUI attorney in Grand Rapids will have a strong argument that a DUI checkpoint is unconstitutional if it fails any of these standards:

• The selection of the site and the procedure is to be determined by supervisory personnel, not field officers.
• In conducting the checkpoint operation, the general safety of motorists and law enforcement personnel must be safeguarded.
• The checkpoint must be held in an area where a high incident of alcohol-related incidents have occurred.
• Good judgment must be used in establishing the date and times for the checkpoint.
• The checkpoint must be highly visible not only for safety purposes but also, as a DUI attorney in Grand Rapids emphasizes, to establish in the minds of drivers that it is a legitimate law enforcement operation.
• The place and time of the checkpoint must be publicized in advance.


Despite the fact that the US Supreme Court has established the principle that DUI checkpoints do not violate the US Constitution, states are free to establish their own standards. Accordingly, a DUI lawyer in Grand Rapids can explain that Michigan’s state constitution has outlawed DUI checkpoints.


If you have been arrested for DUI, it is important to fully understand your rights. Call
Blanchard Law at (616) 773-2945.

Related Posts