Sobriety checkpoints, also known as DUI or OVI checkpoints, have been legal in the U.S. since 1990. That year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government’s interest in preventing impaired driving car accidents outweighed the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Since then, 38 states have allowed their police forces to conduct OVI checkpoints, including Ohio. However, the police cannot operate a checkpoint however they want. There are guidelines they must follow to somewhat protect drivers’ legal rights.
The checkpoint rules
For one thing, the agency that will have the checkpoint must publicize it in advance so that the public knows when and where it will be. These notices typically take the form of a brief news article like this. The Supreme Court also ruled that the police must choose the checkpoint site based on a history of impaired driving, DUI car accidents or both. The site must also be visible from far enough away that drivers have the option of turning around. And the operation must be efficient enough to minimize the intrusion and inconvenience to drivers.
The police don’t need a reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle at an OVI checkpoint the way they do to pull you over, the procedures at a checkpoint are otherwise similar to a regular traffic stop. The officer will question you and look for signs of impairment. They might ask you to perform field sobriety tests or submit to a breath test. If the officers believe they have probable cause to arrest you for drunk driving, they will.
Your rights still count
You still have rights when you are in a DUI checkpoint. If the police violate one of those rights, you may be able to get some or all of the resulting evidence thrown out of court.