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Why DUI checkpoints are legal

In the upcoming weeks, you're likely to see at least one DUI checkpoint around Athens or wherever your holiday travels take you. Law enforcement agencies step up their checkpoints over holidays when drinking is common, and people are more likely to be on the roads while under the influence.

Since drivers are required to pull over at these checkpoints and submit to officers' questions and orders simply because they're driving on a road and not because of anything they've done to arouse suspicion, people sometimes question their legality. Don't they violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure since they don't involve a search warrant? After all, your car is being "seized" in a sense, by being directed into the checkpoint and kept there until you're told you can leave.

That question made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1990. The court ruled in a case questioning the constitutionality of these checkpoints that they are legal. The majority of justices determined that reasonable warrantless searches and seizures are permitted. When officers have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, for example, they may not need a warrant.

While being pulled over at a checkpoint doesn't involve probable cause, the majority noted in the ruling that it is minimally intrusive to those pulled over. Further, they determined that the need to prevent crashes caused by drunk drivers outweighed the intrusion on innocent drivers pulled over at a checkpoint.

If you're arrested for DUI at a checkpoint, it's not wise to argue with the officers about the legality of the checkpoint. If it didn't adhere to state laws regarding sobriety checkpoints, that's an argument that your attorney can make for you. It's best to cooperate and leave it to your attorney to protect your rights and present your case.