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The Constitutionality of DUI Checkpoints

The holidays have now passed us, and many of you may have realized the presence of DUI checkpoints while you were traveling for the holidays.  The United States Supreme Court has stated in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that DUI checkpoints do not offend the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution because they are a reasonable means of advancing a vital public interest, involving only a modest intrusion on the privacy and liberty of motorists.  Additionally, in Commonwealth v. Blouse, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that systematic, non-discriminatory, non-arbitrary checkpoints do not offend the Pennsylvania Constitution.  However, the Court also stated that certain measures must be taken to ensure the constitutionality of such roadblocks.

In Blouse, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted guidelines stated in a previous case, Commonwealth v. Tarbert, to ensure that DUI checkpoints are administered in a constitutionally acceptable manner. Blouse specifically dealt with roadblocks instituted to detect registration, licensing and equipment violations, but the guidelines also apply to DUI checkpoints. The following is a list of criteria that must be met in order for a constitutionally acceptable DUI checkpoint:

  1. Vehicle stops must be brief and must not entail a physical search.
  2. There must be sufficient warning of the existence of the checkpoint.
  3. The decision to conduct a checkpoint, as well as the decisions as to time and place for the checkpoint, must be subject to prior administrative approval.
  4. The choice of time and place for the checkpoint must be based on local experience as to where and when intoxicated drivers are likely to be traveling.
  5. The decision as to which vehicles to stop at the checkpoint must be established by administratively pre-fixed, objective standards, and must not be left to unfettered discretion of the officers at the scene.

Besides the guidelines mentioned above, there are numerous other complexities that are involved in the legality of DUI checkpoints.  If you would like more information, please contact our criminal law attorneys now.

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