DUI Roadblocks / Checkpoints


One of the many rights that all Americans enjoy is the freedom to not worry about unreasonable searches and seizures. It is the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and it is the reason courts require search warrants. Sobriety checkpoints do not exactly fit into the guidelines of the constitution. For many drivers it is unreasonable because there is no suspicion that anything illegal is occurring. Instead of targeting drivers who appear to be intoxicated, at a sobriety checkpoint, officers target everyone.

A few states have taken exception to DUI sobriety checkpoints. The State of Michigan took groundbreaking steps when the Supreme Court reviewed  the case of  Michigan v Sitz. Although the Supreme Court decided that DUI roadblocks were constitutionally permissible because the risk of deaths from DUI outweighed the individual liberties being affected by it, Michigan decided to not allow sobriety checkpoints within its borders.

Arizona has done just the opposite. Throughout cities such as Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler, police actively participate in sobriety checkpoints. DUI checkpoints are frequently done around the holidays when there are more drivers are on the roads. Past dates for roadblocks have included Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco Day Mayo, and Memorial Day.

Many people have questioned the effectiveness of sobriety roadblocks.  This is mostly because there have been documented studies that show that police arrest more drunk drivers in regular traffic than in scheduled roadblocks. Still, DUI roadblock advocates across the country believe in their effectiveness in  preventing drunk driving, because of the inconvenience they cause. They also believe that drivers aware of the roadblock are less likely to drink, therefore preventing a drunk driver from being on the road.

It is hard to say whether or not DUI checkpoints are actually doing anything. They are a part of a larger program of drunk driving prevention called a DUI task force. These government backed groups are responsible for preventing driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated occurrences in their designated jurisdiction. There methods include public DUI education, sobriety checkpoints, and reporting. Their overall goal is to prevent deaths from DUI related accidents.

Although these task force are designed with the public’s interest in mind, it can be questioned as to whether they do more harm than good. Competition between municipalities encourage police officers to make more DUI arrests than what may be necessary in order to show the effectiveness of the program. For example, a task force out of Tempe would love to brag that they’ve arrested more DUI drivers than Chandler, therefore making the streets safer.  Sometimes, they make questionable arrests to make this happen. Although with representation, many of these victims of bureaucracy are able to escape a criminal charge, they do so at a financial burden.

States that use DUI roadblocks are required to follow a few guidelines. First of all, the roadblocks must be publicized in some manner. Another requirement is that officers at the checkpoint be in uniform and they must use obviously marked vehicles. Drivers should be given every opportunity to know that they are approaching a sobriety checkpoint prior to being approached by an officer.

As a driver, there are a few things to keep in mind when approaching a sobriety checkpoint. Unless you are being placed under arrest, there is no requirement to exit your vehicle or answer questions. It is the police officers objective to encourage drivers to incriminate themselves. The least amount of communication is generally the best practice. Be prepared for the stop by having your license and registration ready, no open containers or drugs in the car, and asking your passengers to refrain from speaking. If you are in Arizona, and the officer asks for a sobriety test, you have the opportunity to refuse it. However, if they are asking for one, there is most likely other potential evidence of a DUI, and you may still be arrested.  In Arizona, it is not necessary to have a blood test to convict someone of DUI.

The best way to prevent arrest from a DUI roadblock in Arizona is to not drink alcohol before you get in the driver’s seat. If that could not be prevented, and you are sitting in Phoenix waiting in line at a roadblock, it is probably a good idea to get a lawyer ready.

By Michael Munoz

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