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The legality of sobriety checkpoints

by | Nov 3, 2022 | DWI Defense |

There was a time when drunk driving was considered a minor infraction where a suspect would be allowed to “sleep it off” in a jail cell, or the officer would follow them home to ensure their safe arrival. With growing awareness of the damage done by all forms of substance abuse combined with driving, laws changed accordingly, ramping up the penalties for those traveling in their cars while under the influence.

Today’s laws place limited circumstances on pulling over a driver suspected as intoxicated. Law enforcement is required to work within the protections provided by the U.S. Constitution. Unlawful stops, arrests, and search and seizure will likely result in charges being thrown out.

Chance encounters are only one tool that law enforcement enjoys. Sobriety checkpoints have increased their prominence as well.

Entrapment or deterrent

According to New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General, sobriety checkpoints serve as an effective law enforcement tool in stopping one or a specific segment of vehicles at predetermined fixed locations. Their primary function is to serve as a deterrent by arresting ensnared drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Equally as important, the AG’s office wants to deter those knowledgeable of the operation by ramping up the percentage of possible arrests and putting a high-profile spotlight on the public. Their stated goal is more about prevention instead of arrests.

As with any controversial law enforcement method, lawsuits were filed in the Garden State and nationwide. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Michigan v. Sitz, upholding the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. Reducing drunk drivers was sufficient to justify a “brief intrusion.” Illegal search and seizure are not an issue if the checkpoints are appropriately conducted.