In the state of New York, if you are driving in an area where a sobriety checkpoint is established, you could legally be stopped and searched without any cause.
What is a sobriety checkpoint?
Sobriety Checkpoints are locations where police officers have created a roadblock to check drivers for use of drugs or alcohol while driving.
The locations chosen for checkpoints are temporary and random. Sometimes called DUI checkpoints, mobile checkpoints or DUI roadblocks, these efforts are put in place in the interest of keeping the public safe from drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Oftentimes, sobriety checkpoints can reveal if a driver may be guilty of other crimes. The participants that officers select in the checkpoint are required to provide a driver's license. If the license is entered into the National Crime Index database by law enforcers, it can reveal whether there are wants or warrants out for the driver.
How are sobriety checkpoints legal?
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of their person or property by government officials. However, a U.S. Supreme Court case called, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz ruled that highway sobriety checkpoint programs meet the Fourth Amendment standard of "reasonable search and seizure" largely due to the threat to public safety that drunk driving imposes.
Twelve states have issued statutes that outlaw the sobriety checks. The rest of the United States, including the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, may legally conduct sobriety checkpoints. Sobriety checkpoints are legal in the state of New York and can typically be conducted as often as weekly.
Is there a way I can avoid checkpoints?
Yes. The Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires that law enforcement publicizes a checkpoint prior to setting it up. This announcement could be a sign in the area or a notice in the newspaper. Announcements could also be found on a website or smartphone app that hosts a checkpoint database. If the police fail to announce that these checkpoints will occur and where their location will be, the searches they conduct would violate the Fourth Amendment.
Sometimes navigating what’s legal and what’s not isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Attorneys can provide you with more information on your rights and whether they’re being violated, so you don’t have to be afraid or confused in unique circumstances like sobriety checkpoints.