Are Checkpoints Constitutional? The Legality of DUI Checkpoints

Police CheckpointWhat do you do when you are driving along and realize there is a DUI checkpoint ahead? If you recently found yourself in this situation and ended up under arrest for driving under the influence (DUI), you probably have a number of questions. Are DUI checkpoints legal or do they amount to entrapment? If they are legal, what rights do you have at a DUI checkpoint? Because it is always beneficial to know your rights, an experienced Illinois DUI checkpoint lawyer explains the legality of DUI checkpoints.

The Warrant Requirements -- 4th Amendment Basics

Any discussion about the legality of DUI checkpoints must begin with a basic understanding of the 4th Amendment warrant requirement. In short, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires a law enforcement officer to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before conducting a search. Over the years, however, a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement have been carved out by the courts.

One of those exceptions applies to the search of a vehicle that is being driven on a public roadway. Although a law enforcement officer is not required to obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a vehicle, an officer is still required to have an articulable reason or a reasonable suspicion for conducting a traffic stop. A DUI checkpoint, however, is not a traditional traffic stop. Consequently, the courts have treated the legality of DUI checkpoints differently than they treat a search incident to a traffic stop.

How Does the Law View DUI Checkpoints?

During the 1980s, both private advocacy groups and public officials embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving. As a direct result, many law enforcement agencies across the country increased their DUI enforcement efforts. The idea of “checkpoints” that motorists would have to pass through became a popular method of catching drunk drivers.

The legality of this controversial new approach to catching impaired motorists was challenged by numerous defendants across the country. Eventually, one of those cases made it to the Supreme Court. In Michigan Dep't of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990) the nation’s highest court held that the State’s interest in keeping drunk drivers off the roadway generally outweighs the relatively slight intrusion to motorists caused by a brief detention at a DUI checkpoint.

Limitations on the Legality of DUI Checkpoints

While the U.S. Supreme Court did hold that DUI checkpoints are legal, the Court also imposed some restrictions and limitations on checkpoints. For a DUI checkpoint to be legal, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • The checkpoint should 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 -- instead, investigations must be random.
  • DUI checkpoints must be published ahead of time.

In addition, DUI checkpoints are not legal in several states because they violate state law and/or they have been found to violate the state constitution. The State of Illinois, however, is not one of those states.

Contact an Illinois DUI Defense Attorney Today

If you were arrested as a result of a DUI checkpoint investigation, contact an experienced Illinois DUI defense attorney at Sexner and Associates LLC today by calling (312) 644-0444 or by filling out our online contact form.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : June 24, 2020