Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints have made headlines in Florida and across the United States. One of the most common questions regarding checkpoints designed to detect drivers who are driving under the influence (DUI) is whether such checkpoints violate the Constitution. What is a DUI checkpoint?

Driving under the influence checkpoints are sporadically placed stationary points throughout the state of Florida where law enforcement officers randomly stop vehicles to conduct DUI screenings. The purpose of a sobriety checkpoint is deterrence.

The idea is that, if an individual believes that he or she could be randomly checked for driving under the influence at any time, then he or she will be less likely to drink and drive.

Sobriety checkpoints, by their nature, implicate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, however, because the stop is considered a search and seizure. Thus, such searches must be reasonable and based in probable cause.

Attorney for Arrests at Sobriety Checkpoints in Pensacola, FL

Understanding your rights, if you have been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint is imperative. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. At The Law Office of James M. Burns our attorney has decades of experience defending the rights of criminal defendants.

Attorney James M. Burns will know what documents to request, the laws on search and seizure and how to fight unreasonable searches and seizures. The Law Office of James M. Burns takes DUI cases in Escambia County and Santa Rosa County, Florida.

Call (850) 457-6002 now to schedule a one-on-one, free consultation with Attorney Burns to learn more about fighting DUI charges.

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DUI Checkpoint Information Center

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The Constitutionality of a Florida DUI Checkpoint

Thirty-seven states, including Florida, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands allow sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints came under scrutiny in 1990 when the Michigan State Police Department created a sobriety checkpoint to reduce drunk driving.

During the case, it was emphasized that the checkpoint program had guidelines that governed the location of the roadblocks, the amount of publicity allowed for checkpoints and the operation.

Michigan driver, Sitz, challenged the checkpoint as an unconstitutional violation of his right to be free from unreasonable searches. The question before the Court was whether drunk-driving checkpoints were unconstitutional.

The Court held, in a 6-3 decision, that roadblocks do not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court stated, “the weight bearing on the other scale –the measure of the intrusion on motorists stopped briefly at sobriety checkpoints –is slight.” Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990).

Since DUI checkpoints have been deemed to implicate the Fourth Amendment, they are regarded with a high level of scrutiny. The Court has allowed the individual states to set the guidelines for constitutional checkpoints, should they choose to have them, but the standards are high.

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Florida Standards for Sobriety Checkpoints

The state of Florida has deemed sobriety checkpoints constitutional. In two Florida Supreme Court cases, State v. Jones, 483 So.2d 433 (Fla. 1986) and Campbell v. State, 679 So.2d 1168 (Fla. 1996), the Court outlined the guidelines with which DUI checkpoints would be operated.

In Jones, the Court answered the question of whether warrantless temporary roadblocks, established to apprehend persons driving under the influence of alcohol, which also stopped cars without any articulable suspicion of illegal activity able to produce constitutionally permissible arrests.

The Court held that sobriety checkpoints, conducted in this way were a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court went on to explain that sobriety checkpoints could be constitutional if law enforcement conducted specific guidelines when performing them.

Law enforcement must have a set of “uniform guidelines” before a roadblock may be used. Such guidelines “should cover in detail the procedures which field officers are to follow at the roadblock” and must have reasonably specific procedures regarding the selection of vehicles, the disposition of vehicles, the duty assignments, and the detention techniques.

The Campbell Court went on to clarify that such written guidelines must be established before a roadblock is in place. The Court said, in part, “[t]he requirement of written guidelines is not merely a formality….,[r]ather, it is the method this Court and others have chosen to ensure that police do not act with unbridled discretion….”

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What to Do at a Checkpoint?

Since there is no way to know whether a DUI checkpoint is operating constitutionally, at the outset, it is essential to ensure that an individual that is detained by an officer, comply with his or her request.

A police officer is allowed to inquire after an individual’s license, registration, and insurance on a roadblock stop. Law enforcement is also authorized to require a BAC test should he or she suspect drunk driving. An individual who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher will be arrested.

In addition, an alleged offender could still be arrested even if he or she passes the breath test but an officer reasonably believes that the individual is "affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired." Refusal to submit to a breath test may also result in a person being arrested.

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Additional Resources

Sobriety Checkpoint Laws | Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) — GHSA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit representing the state and territorial highway safety offices (such as the Florida State Safety Office) that implement federal grant programs to address behavioral highway safety issues. This mission of GHSA is, "Provide leadership and advocacy for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices." On this section of the GHSA website, you can learn more about which states utilize sobriety checkpoints as well as how often such checkpoints are conducted.

Chapter 17.08 of the Florida Highway Patrol Policy Manual — View the full text of FHP's "guidelines for the use of Comprehensive Roadside Safety Checkpoints as part of a continuing, systematic and assertive enforcement program to identify persons who are operating a motor vehicle with defective equipment, without a valid drivers license or permit, without a proper vehicle registration, without proper insurance or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs." You can learn more about officer responsibilities and procedures relating to checkpoint location selection, operational plans, and actual checkpoint procedures. Chapter 17.07 of the manual covers Drivers License and Vehicle Inspection Checkpoints.

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Find an Attorney for DUI Checkpoints in Pensacola, FL

If you or someone you know has been unreasonably detained at a Florida sobriety checkpoint, contact the experienced DUI defense attorneys at The Law Office of James M. Burns.

James Burns is an attorney who has defended the rights of criminal defendants for years. He is an experienced and skilled litigator who will fight for the best possible result for his clients.

The Law Office of James M. Burns takes cases throughout the Florida Panhandle in Escambia County and Santa Rosa County, FL. Our clients come from places like Navarre, Milton, Pace, Fort Walton, and Perdido Key, Florida.

Call (850) 457-6002 now to schedule a one on one consultation with Attorney James Burns.

This article was last updated on November 9, 2017.