Can Police Use Evidence From Sobriety Checkpoints?
Yes, provided that certain rules are followed ...
Back in the 1980s, deaths from DUIs were skyrocketing in Michigan. So, policy makers announced a series of sobriety checkpoints throughout the Wolverine state. Two days before the first one (in Saginaw), two drivers sued, claiming that random checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures (Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz). In 1990, the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In order to justify a search and seizure, the government must establish probable cause—a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Sobriety checkpoints are random traffic stops, not tied to any specific suspicions. So how could such a stop—without probable cause—be justified under the Constitution?
The U.S. Supreme Court found Michigan's sobriety checkpoint policy did not violate the Constitutional because the government had an important public safety obligation—roadway safety—and the inconveniences to drivers were small and noninvasive.
What's The Law in Your State?
Most states apply the federal standard from Sitz decision. But in a handful of states, DUI checkpoints are still illegal under state law. These states include Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Learn more about sobriety checkpoint laws in your state. (Generally, states are free to afford people with greater rights than those provided under federal law.)
For additional information, follow the links below.