Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?

There are hundreds of videos on YouTube showing drivers in the midst of DUI Checkpoints.  Many of them are a bit disturbing – some of them are hilarious.  There are even videos from stops in Tennessee.  These citizens have taken the time to set up cameras in their vehicle to record their experiences at these DUI Checkpoints.  Their purpose is to contest the officer’s authority to conduct the Checkpoint.  It is important to note that in order for an officer to initiate a traffic stop in Tennessee, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is being, or has been, committed.  Unbeknownst to most people, a DUI Checkpoint is an exception to this rule.  In Tennessee, these Checkpoints are legal. 

The United States Supreme Court addressed DUI Checkpoints in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 1990.   The Supreme Court held that the DUI Checkpoint in that case did not violate the 4th Amendment.  The Court applied a balancing test between the State’s interests in solving a drunk driving problem versus the measure of intrusion upon the liberty of briefly stopping motorists.  The Court ruled that the interest in keeping drunk drivers off of the road outweighed the slight intrusion of a citizen’s temporary stop.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has also found that properly conducted DUI Checkpoints are constitutional under the Tennessee Constitution.  This issue was addressed in State of Tennessee v. Downey, 1997.  Similar to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tennessee Court noted that there is a “compelling interest in detecting and deterring motorists who drive while under the influence of alcohol.”  The Court ruled that a DUI Checkpoint is a reasonable seizure under Tennessee law, provided that it is properly operated and supervised to “minimize the risk of arbitrary intrusion on individuals and limit the discretion of law enforcement officers at the scene.”

So, are DUI Checkpoints in Tennessee constitutional? Yes. However, just because someone was arrested for DUI at a checkpoint does not mean that there is not a defense to the DUI charge.  There are many factual considerations that come into play when defending a DUI.  For answers to DUI questions, contact one of our DUI Attorneys in Murfreesboro, TN.  In the meantime, consider the following tips on how to avoid a DUI conviction, whether during a DUI Checkpoint or during a regular traffic stop:

  1. Be polite to the officer.
  2. Exercise your right to remain silent.
  3. Never consent to a search of your vehicle.
  4. You can refuse to perform the field sobriety tests.
  5. If you decide to consent to a blood draw, request for an independent blood sample.  Our office can get that sample tested by an independent toxicology lab.