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Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?

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Vaughan de Kirby
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It all started in 1984 when the California Attorney General's office gave guidelines on what was then called “dunk driving roadblocks” to the CHP and local police departments. This was the birth of the sobriety checkpoints that we have today. Not only are they legal, but—from the police’s perspective—they also are successful in taking drunk drivers off the road and increasing the number DUI arrests throughout California. However, many feel that sobriety checkpoints are a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights.

In1987, the California Supreme Court issued a decision that narrowly approved sobriety checkpoints. The case of Ingersoll v Palmer required the Court to balance the civil liberties of individuals on the one hand, and the risk posed by drunk drivers on the other. In this 4-3 decision, the court stated, "We conclude that within certain limitations a sobriety checkpoint may be operated in a manner consistent with the federal and state Constitutions." The United States Supreme Court gave their stamp of approval in 1990 in the case of Michigan State Police Dept. v Sitz.

The Supreme Court based their reasoning on the argument that the purpose of the sobriety checkpoint was to stop drunk driving, rather than to arrest drivers for DUI. They used this argument to “balance” 4th Amendment rights against the apparent deterrent affect of sobriety checkpoints.

That is some background of sobriety checkpoints. You may not like them, but you may as well learn to live with them because sobriety checkpoints in California are legal and here to stay.

For more information, read our article “How Sobriety Checkpoints Work.”

Category: General


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