Sobriety Checkpoints Dilemma

bottles of alcoholAn interesting series of videos have recently been making the rounds on social media, in which Florida attorney Warren Redlich demonstrates an innovative method for negotiating sobriety checkpoints.


Redlich’s strategy is to limit his interaction with the police, and to avoid giving police the opportunity to claim that they can smell an odor of drugs or alcohol from the vehicle or to allege that he is slurring his words. In doing so, Redlich is taking advantage of the body of rules governing the practice of DUI/sobriety checkpoints.

In most circumstances, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires police to have specific probable cause that a person has committed a crime or possesses contraband before a lawful search or arrest of that person may occur. However, there are exceptions to this general principle. One of the broadest exceptions, and most common, is the DUI/sobriety checkpoint. The United States Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit sobriety checkpoints, and that the limited nature of the intrusion into a driver’s liberty is justified by the danger, pervasiveness, and difficulty of detecting drunk driving. The Supreme Court’s ruling leaves it to each state to determine whether sobriety checkpoints violate the search and seizure provisions of their state constitutions. As of the time of this writing, twelve (12) states prohibit sobriety checkpoints.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that systematic sobriety checkpoints do not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution, so long as they are nondiscriminatory, nonarbitrary, and conducted in compliance with certain guidelines. Some of the safeguards which the Supreme Court has said must be in place in order to protect the liberty interests of drivers subjected to a possibly unwarranted detention and search:

  • Checkpoint cannot require more than a momentary stop to allow police to make a brief observation of the driver, without entailing a physical search of vehicle or occupants (unless officer sees indications of DUI or other violations);
  • Checkpoint must be ascertainable from a reasonable distance or otherwise made knowable in advance (i.e. publicized in newspaper);
  • The decision to conduct a checkpoint, as well as the time and place of the checkpoint, must be subject to prior administrative approval;
  • The decision as to which vehicles to stop must be established in advance by administratively determined, objective standards, and cannot be left to the discretion of the officer in the field (i.e. every vehicle, every third vehicle, etc);
  • The place and time of the checkpoint must be based on local experience as to where and when intoxicated drivers are likely to be traveling.

General guidelines published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can be found here.

Some have accused Redlich and others disseminating this technique of aiding drunk drivers’ efforts to avoid law enforcement, while others praise him for informing innocent drivers of their rights and reducing the intrusion of unwarranted searches and seizures. Any questions or concerns regarding how to handle sobriety checkpoints can be handled by contacting our offices.

Posted on April 8, 2015, in Alcohol, Criminal Law, Drugs, DUI, Family Law, Search & Seizure, Underage Drinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sobriety Checkpoints Dilemma.

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