Are Sobriety Checkpoints Unconstitutional?


Sobriety checkpoints have become a favored method amongst many law enforcement agencies due to their ease of operation and because they allow them to pull over and test drivers for which they would have had no probable cause to pull over in normal circumstances. So does this suspension of probable cause make sobriety checkpoints illegal?

Opponents of DUI checkpoints say they directly violate the Fourth Amendment rights of all Americans, which guard against unreasonable search and seizure, making them unconstitutional and illegal. The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that these checkpoints were violating people’s Fourth Amendment rights but that the benefits of removing drunk drivers from the road were more important and therefore outweighed the infringement.

In order for sobriety checkpoints to be legal, the Supreme Court issued set guidelines for law enforcement agencies to follow:


  • The location of DUI checkpoints must be decided by policymakers based on local drunk driving statistics, with public and police safety being of the utmost importance in location choice.
  • DUI checkpoints can only be held for limited periods of time to limit their intrusiveness and maximize their effectiveness.
  • Officers cannot choose which drivers they want to screen, drivers must be selected at random according to a predetermined method, such as every fourth car.
  • Visible warning lights and clear signs must alert drivers of the presence of a DUI checkpoint.


Some states decided that DUI checkpoints are still unconstitutional, despite the Supreme Court ruling, and don’t use them in the campaign against drunk driving.  These are Wyoming, Wisconsin, Washington, Texas, Rhode Island, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and Idaho.

California is one of the many states that sill does utilize the sobriety checkpoints for catching drivers under the influence.  The laws inS San Diego are some of the toughest in the country.  If you have been charged with DUI in San Diego after being caught at a DUI checkpoint you should contact an experienced DUI lawyer to see if he thinks your arrest was unconstitutional.