Whether they’re called DUI checkpoints, sobriety roadblocks, or any other similar name, police-orchestrated roadway stops are a common tactic used by law enforcement agencies in many states. Typically, these checkpoints involve officers who section off an area of road to briefly stop motorists – or every x number of motorists – and conduct limited assessments. Their focus is largely placed on offenses such as:
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Visible contraband (i.e. open containers, drug crimes, or illegal weapons)
- Driving on a suspended license
- Driving without insurance
- Arresting motorists with active warrants
Sobriety checkpoints are used throughout the year as a proactive measure to ensure public safety on the roads, but they most frequently take place on nights and in the early morning hours, weekends, and especially during holidays – including fall and winter holidays when celebrations and alcohol consumption are common. This includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
Sobriety Checkpoints & the Fourth Amendment
While sobriety checkpoints are strongly supported by safety advocates and organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), they have raised many important legal questions, and have sparked considerable discussion and debate which high courts throughout the country have had to resolve. This is largely due to how they conflict with Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
As we have discussed in a previous blog, your Constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizure. Generally, this means law enforcement simply can’t stop you on the street whenever they please. Instead, they must have “reasonable suspicion” to suspect a person may have committed a crime in order to stop them, and “probable cause” (or a warrant or consent from a suspect) to conduct any further search of their person or their property, or to make an arrest.
Your Fourth Amendment right is one of the most important rights you have, and it can and often is used to assess the conduct of law enforcement in criminal cases. However, it has had a tense and conflicting relationship with DUI roadblocks, over which many legal scholars and high courts have long argued. That’s because sobriety checkpoints allow law enforcement to stop motorists without reasonable suspicion.
SCOTUS Rules Sobriety Roadblock Legal
Roughly 30 years ago, a case from the Michigan Supreme Court found that DUI roadblocks violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment (i.e. it constituted an unlawful search and seizure). That case was later appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which issued a landmark decision in 1990 that declared sobriety checkpoints which are properly conducted ARE legal. The court, or at least the majority, ruled that the interest of preventing impaired driving and improving roadway safety outweighed the minimal degree of intrusion drivers face at brief sobriety checkpoints.
So Does That Mean Sobriety Checkpoints Are Legal in West Virginia?
Aside from all the legal tussle over this issue, the plain and simple fact is that sobriety checkpoints are legal in the state of West Virginia, where they are operated through a combined Checkpoint Strikeforce jointly run by West Virginia, Maryland, and a few other local states. They are also legal in all but 10 states in the U.S., which have independently ruled checkpoints violate their own state constitutions.
Based on prior court decisions in West Virginia, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision, sobriety checkpoints must be properly conducted, and law enforcement must still adhere to procedural rules and conduct. This includes requirements for law enforcement to publicly announce in advance the date, time, and location of any sobriety checkpoint.
Your Rights & How Sutton & Janelle, PLLC Can Fight for You
If you or someone you love has been arrested and charged for DUI or any other offense at a sobriety checkpoint, you should not feel as though you must plead guilty. The conflicting laws, numerous rules and procedures police must follow, and your Constitutional rights surrounding these types of police tactics and any search and arrest provide ample opportunity to evaluate and create defense strategies which can help in your defense. From challenging unlawful searches and seizures and deconstructing the government’s allegations to pursuing charge reductions, case dismissals, or minimized penalties that protect your future, proven lawyers can help you fight for the best possible outcome.
At Sutton & Janelle, PLLC, our defense team is led by J. Mark Sutton, a nationally recognized criminal defense attorney and admitted member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys who was recently recognized among the 2018 10 Best DUI Attorneys in West Virginia for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of DUI / DWI Attorneys (AIDUIA). Backed by his insight and experience, we can help you learn more about your case, rights, and available options for defense. Contact us today to get started.