By now, most motorists are well aware that drinking and driving is both dangerous and illegal. They also know that law enforcement officers are constantly on the lookout for drivers who appear to be driving under the influence. Even if you are driving flawlessly, however, you could still end up under arrest for DUI if you happen upon a DUI checkpoint, which may lead you to wonder why DUI checkpoints are allowed at all. An Omaha DUI lawyer at Petersen Law Office explains what you need to know about the legality of DUI checkpoints.
Basic Search and Seizure Law
In order to understand how and when DUI checkpoints are allowed, we have to start with basic 4th Amendment search and seizure law. When a vehicle is stopped, it is considered to be a seizure for purposes of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 4th Amendment only allows law enforcement to conduct “reasonable” searches and seizures. Typically, a search requires a warrant; however, vehicle searches and seizures fall under an exception to the warrant requirement. Still, a law enforcement officer is normally required to have an articulable reason or a reasonable suspicion, for stopping a motorist. A DUI checkpoint, however, involves stopping every vehicle that passes the checkpoint without a reason nor suspicion of any wrongdoing. How is that allowed?
The SCOTUS Decision
The legality of DUI checkpoints eventually made its way up through the legal system to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the case of Michigan Dep’t of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). In that case, the Court decided that the importance of keeping impaired drivers off the road generally outweighs the inconvenience and intrusion to motorists caused by a brief detention in a checkpoint. Therefore, DUI roadblocks are legal. SCOTUS did, however, impose some guidelines for checkpoints that are also worth noting.
- Checkpoints must be well-planned out ahead of time.
- It must be obvious to a motorist that they are entering a checkpoint.
- The location must be safe and lend itself to the purpose.
- Vehicles and/or drivers cannot be targeted – investigations must be random.
- Checkpoints must be published ahead of time.
State Laws May Prohibit DUI Checkpoints
In the United States, we operate under a federalist form of government, meaning that we have a strong central government as well as numerous semi-autonomous smaller governments (the individual state governments). The U.S. Constitution serves as the foundation for our entire legal system. Both the federal and state governments may pass laws; however, neither may pass a law that violates the Constitution. Moreover, when it comes to a defendant’s rights, a state may provide a defendant with more rights than the federal government does, but not less. Therefore, even though SCOTUS declared DUI checkpoints pass constitutional muster, individual states may prohibit them. Iowa and Wisconsin, for example, have statutes that prohibit DUI checkpoints while Oregon, Washington, and Michigan have determined that DUI checkpoints violate their state constitutions. Unfortunately, if you are a resident of Nebraska, or are just passing through, you are subject to the possibility of running into a DUI checkpoint as they are allowed in the state.
Beware of Ruse Checkpoints
Although most motorists are familiar with DUI checkpoints, there is another type of “checkpoint” with which you may not be familiar. Ruse checkpoints are also commonly used in the State of Nebraska. When a ruse checkpoint is used, a “State Patrol checkpoint” sign will be placed on the interstate, along with a “Drug Dog in Use” sign, in time for drivers to use an exit. The idea is that drivers who have something to hide will take the exit. State Troopers are stationed at the bottom of the exit, waiting to fall in behind the vehicle. As soon as the officer finds a reason to stop the vehicle, a traffic stop is effectuated with the anticipation of finding drugs in the vehicle given the driver’s behavior. While it is perfectly legal for law enforcement agencies to put these signs on the interstate, what you need to know is that there is no such thing as a “drug” checkpoint.
Contact an Omaha DUI Lawyer at Petersen Law Office
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in the State of Nebraska, it is always in your best interest to consult directly with a DUI defense attorney about the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Contact the Nebraska DUI lawyers at Petersen Law Office 24 hours a day at 402-513-2180 to discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer.