What are my rights when I approach a sobriety checkpoint?

This is the age of Facebook, Twitter, and any other instant message update available.  These social media platforms have been useful for consumers to warn each other about speed traps and sobriety checkpoints.  The tables have turned in neighboring St. Louis last week when law enforcement changed tactics by setting up checkpoints in the middle of the week on less-traveled roadways.

Illinois motorists should take a lesson from this recent news report by being aware how tweets and posts about sobriety checkpoints may inspire police to change it up.  If you have already fallen victim to a sobriety checkpoint, you need a qualified Illinois DUI Defense Attorney to help you navigate the justice system.  Whether you’ve had this unfortunate experience or not, you should be aware of your rights when approaching these checkpoints.

The Constitutionality of Checkpoints

You may not know that the Supreme Court had to rule on the constitutionality of checkpoints because being stopped by police, whether on the street, in your car, or at the border amounts to a seizure that implicates the Fourth Amendment.  Although not all stops require individualized suspicion, all stops must be reasonable.

What determines the reasonableness of a sobriety checkpoint is a balancing test of the State’s interest in preventing accidents, the effectiveness of the checkpoints in achieving that goal, and the level of intrusion on the motorist’s privacy caused by the checkpoint.  Typically, these types of checkpoints are fixed, randomly stop vehicles, and are brief.  See Michigan v. Sitz.

When a city tried to set up checkpoints to intercept illegal drugs, the Supreme Court said this was not reasonable without individualized suspicion because the need was general law enforcement rather than a particular public concern, like road safety.  See City of Indianapolis v. Edmond.

Information seeking checkpoints are allowed under the Constitution so long as the crime for which information is sought is serious, the checkpoint is narrowly tailored to the investigative purpose, the stop is brief and systematic, and the questions asked relate to the investigation at hand.  See Illinois v. Lidster.

Your Rights at a Checkpoint

Although a sobriety checkpoint is legal, you still have rights.  For starters, the checkpoint is to stop you for the limited purpose of quickly checking for intoxicated drivers.  This checkpoint does not give police the right to search your vehicle without just cause.  For this reason, you may be asked to consent to a search.  You do not have to allow the search.  Also, police cannot hold you for an extended period of time for no reason.  This would be an unreasonable intrusion into your privacy and a potential violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

If you or someone you know has been subject to a sobriety checkpoint, you should contact a qualified Illinois DUI Defense Attorney immediately.  If you were cited for another offense at such a checkpoint and you believe your rights were violated, you are also someone who could benefit from a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney to help you defend and protect your constitutional rights.

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