If you’ve spent much time watching police television dramas, you may be well-versed in the concept of entrapment—the idea that police officers aren’t able to coerce or force individuals into committing criminal activity and then arrest them for doing so. With this in mind, you may find yourself wondering about the legality of sobriety checkpoints, which stop all drivers passing through an area or intersection to determine whether they’re sober.
These checkpoints aren’t per se entrapment, but must adhere to some strict conditions in order for a checkpoint-related arrest to stand. Read on to learn more about the requirements a sobriety checkpoint must meet in order to pass muster under the U.S. Constitution, as well as how an Orange County DUI lawyer can help you fight against criminal charges stemming from a checkpoint stop.
Checkpoint Standards for Constitutionality
Checkpoints are often utilized in high-traffic areas during times when an even higher than normal volume of traffic is expected. Holiday weekends, especially the Fourth of July and Labor Day, are popular times to implement checkpoints, as are weekends (or weeknights) when a local sports team is playing a big game or a band is performing a sold-out show.
The U.S. Constitution, as well as most state constitutions, provide citizens with protection against unwarranted searches and seizures. Previous U.S. Supreme Court opinions have held that individuals have what’s called a reasonable expectation of privacy while in their own vehicle; however, when this vehicle is traveling on public highways, this expectation of privacy can be reduced somewhat.
One U.S. Supreme Court case, Michigan v. Sitz, upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints as long as these checkpoints adhered to a few specific conditions. First, checkpoints must be planned and publicized. Officers aren’t able to, on a whim, decide to set up a checkpoint in a certain location without first publishing notice of their intent to do so.
Checkpoints must also bear a reasonable relationship to their purpose: to target and reduce instances of driving under the influence. Checkpoints can’t be used as a fishing expedition to conduct an unauthorized search of the entire vehicle; if a driver appears to be sober, he or she must be permitted to pass.
Challenging a Checkpoint Arrest
An Orange County DUI lawyer can help you fight for your rights if you’ve been arrested after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. There are a number of ways your attorney can help you poke holes in the State’s case, from challenging the constitutionality of the checkpoint itself to determining whether the officer had probable cause to conduct a field sobriety test or to ask you to submit to a breathalyzer. Because each case has its own unique set of facts, it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure you don’t inadvertently waive any of your rights.