DUI Checkpoint Motivations Questioned

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DUI checkpoints have become increasingly common since the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that the minimal intrusion of a brief checkpoint stop was outweighed by the states' interest in minimizing the number of fatalities and injuries caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol. Virtually every weekend dozens of local newspapers report scheduled DUI checkpoints, and follow-up stories usually report a few drunk drivers having been arrested.

Those stories generally report other results as well: arrests for drug possession, open containers, expired registration, invalid driver's licenses, and a host of other charges-even seat belt violations. Sometimes the impact is even more extreme. Late on St. Patrick's Day night, a Kansas City driver died attempting to evade a DUI checkpoint.

Last year, California DUI lawyer Lawrence Taylor looked at the results of 5 Sacramento checkpoints that ended in 22 arrests for suspected DUI. Those same checkpoints also yielded 315 citations and resulted in the impounding of 259 vehicles driven by people driving without a license or on a suspended license.

Despite the United States Supreme Court's approval of such checkpoints, eleven states prohibit them by application of their own statutes or Constitutions. In those states where checkpoints are used regularly, though, many in the legal field have begun to question the real motivation for the stops. The number of DUI arrests in each instance is far lower than the number of unrelated charges and citations. Vehicles may be impounded for various reasons unrelated to DUIs, such as expired registration. All of these additional charges and seizures, of course, generate revenue for the state or local government in the form of fines, fees and costs.

These additional charges, arrests and seizures raise issues that weren't addressed in the 1990 Supreme Court decision, which focused on the state interest in preventing drunk driving and the associated deaths, injuries, and property damage. While the court found those interests sufficiently compelling to justify the relatively minor intrusion of a brief checkpoint stop, it seems unlikely that the same compelling interest exists in ensuring that drivers aren't on the road with expired license plates or without carrying their (valid, current) driver's licenses.


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