Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion at DUI Checkpoints

Posted by James Ferguson | Nov 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

DUI Checkpoints (also known as sobriety checkpoints) are locations where law enforcement officers are stationed to inspect drivers for signs of intoxication and impairment. Many U.S. jurisdictions, including Mississippi, use DUI checkpoints as part of their larger drunk driving deterrence program. DUI checkpoints are random and unannounced. However, they are usually active during weekends and holidays. They can be stationed inside busy intersections that may be the site of frequent vehicular accidents. The check itself should be brief and limited to a cursory, visual inspection. Mississippi does utilize DUI checkpoints on a frequent basis; therefore, it is imperative for motorists to know their rights during these encounters.

Probable Cause Required for Further Inquiry
As discussed above, a check at a DUI checkpoint should be limited to a cursory, visual inspection to check for signs of impairment. As such, officers do not need probable cause to conduct checks at DUI checkpoint. Probable cause is a standard in the Fourth Amendment that is required before police can make an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant. The limitation placed on officers conducting checks is not arbitrary; however, it is limited by the law as stated in the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case of Michigan v. Sitz. In Michigan v. Sitz, the Court held that DUI checkpoints where constitutional even though law enforcement had no probable to conduct a search. The Court went on to say that a check conducted at a checkpoint was “slight” and did not create a great interference with privacy.
Nevertheless, a brief DUI check can turn into a search and an arrest. Before this occurs at a DUI checkpoint, the law requires the officer to possess probable cause to conclude that a crime is being committed. The probable cause can come in the form of the scent of alcohol, open beer bottles on the floor of the car, or even a driver's slurred speech. Without these present, the officer is prohibited from prolonging the check, making an arrest, conducting a field sobriety check or searching the vehicle.

Avoiding a DUI Checkpoint can Arise Reasonable Suspicion
When approaching a DUI checkpoint it is wise to simply follow the road and present oneself to the officer. Trying to avoid a DUI checkpoint in plain sight of an officer can raise reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is another standard for determining the legality of an officer's decision to detain or search an individual. Flight from a DUI checkpoint can lead an officer to legally conclude that a crime is being committed, which then gives him or her the legal right to search the suspect. In this instance, it is false to believe that the officer cannot pursue you to conduct a search. In this case, the law is on the officer's side.

Your DUI Attorney
Attorney James Robert Ferguson is a seasoned DUI attorney with years of experience litigating alcohol and drug DUI cases. Driving under the influence is a serious crime. If you have been charged with DUI, you need an experienced attorney on your side. If you believe that your rights were violated during a DUI checkpoint, it is necessary to address the matter in other craft the best defense. Call us now for a consultation.

See related blog posts:
Are Sobriety Checkpoints Legal in Mississippi?
What Happens During a Sobriety Checkpoint?

About the Author

James Ferguson

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. During college, I studied at East Tennessee State University, where I received a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice, which I then followed up with a Master's in Criminology from the University of Memphis. Before beginning my legal career, I worked as a Project Coordinator at the University of Memphis, where I assisted in training law enforcement officers in the Memphis Model of Crisis Intervention Training. The purpose of the project was to provide officers with the tools to deal with citizens in a state of mental crisis. I then went on to study law at the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. During law school, I clerked with Victor W. Carmody, Jr., the lawyer who wrote the book on DUI law in Mississippi. I am currently licensed to practice law in both Tennessee and Mississippi, and spend a majority of my time traveling the highways and biways of Mississippi defending those who have been charged with a DUI.

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