Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal? The US Supreme Court and the State of New Jersey have determined that DUI checkpoints are legal and are permitted if they meet certain criteria.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 (Michigan v. Sitz) upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. The Court held that the interest in reducing alcohol-impaired driving was sufficient to justify the brief intrusion of a sobriety checkpoint. If conducted properly, sobriety checkpoints do not constitute illegal search and seizure in most states.
Sobriety checkpoints are an effective law enforcement tool involving the stopping of vehicles or a specific sequence of vehicles, at a predetermined fixed location to detect drivers impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs. These operations not only serve as a specific deterrent by arresting impaired drivers who pass through the checkpoints, but more importantly, as a general deterrent to persons who have knowledge of the operation.
Sobriety checkpoints increase the perception of the risk of arrest, if they are adequately publicized and highly visible to the public.
Staffing requirements for checkpoints are dependent on many factors, but most importantly the location and traffic volume of the selected site. The traditional sobriety checkpoint is resource intensive for both uniform and support personnel, in order to set up and conduct the operation safely. Resource intensive operations discourage a number of law enforcement agencies from conducting sobriety checkpoints, particularly smaller agencies or others that can ill-afford to dedicate limited staff to such an operation. The end result is that some small agencies are reluctant to use this effective tool. This results in less frequent use of checkpoints, and correspondingly, less exposure and awareness by the public and a reduced perception of risk of arrest for DWI. This may be overcome by partnering with other agencies in the immediate area.
The Goal is Prevention
The key to deterring impaired driving is highly visible enforcement. Prevention and not arrest is the goal. The research is clear on the affect highly visible enforcement has on deterring impairing driving. When drivers perceive the risk of being caught is high, their behavior changes immediately. This is the basis of the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Crackdown. The message is simple, direct, relevant and it works -- having already influenced many citizens nationwide not to drink and drive. In most cases, reduced staff checkpoints can be as effective as large scale activities in preventing impaired driving if the effort is correctly publicized to increase the perception of being caught.
Benefits of Small Scale Checkpoints The use of small scale checkpoints can result in: More Efficient Use Personnel Resources Increased Visibility and General Deterrence Through Greater Mobility Lower Operational Costs More Participation By Smaller Agencies
Small Scale Checkpoint Tips
Small scale sobriety checkpoints can operate under the same guidelines as large scale programs, while using only five or more officers.Duties can be shared by all personnel assigned to staff the checkpoint.
Sobriety checkpoints must be staffed by uniformed officers.
The safety and convenience of motorists and law enforcement personnel are priorities and must not be compromised.
Well designed operational procedures help ensure that small scale sobriety checkpoints are used legally, effectively and safely.
Checkpoints should be well publicized to establish a "perception of risk" in the community.
Small Scale Checkpoint Planning Considerations
Prosecutorial and Judicial Support
Review of Existing Laws and
Departmental PolicyOperational Briefings and Jurisdiction Review
Mutual Aid Agreements
Site Locations (Demographics and Volume)
Sufficient Warning Devices Visible
Police Authority Detection,
Investigation Techniques and Training
Chemical Testing Capability
Public Information, Education and Outreach Strategies
Data Collection and Evaluation