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MD DUI Checkpoints

Even for drivers who are sober, the sight of a DUI checkpoint looming on the horizon is unwelcome. Many people view these checkpoints as an inconvenience and invasion of privacy. The purpose of DUI checkpoints, a Maryland DUI lawyer can explain, are largely twofold:

  1. To arrest drivers who are intoxicated and/or under the influence of drugs.
  2. To send a message to all drivers that law enforcement officers are in the area and on the lookout for drunk drivers.

Although sobriety checkpoints can be set up at any time, they are usually positioned at locations where there are high occurrences of alcohol-related arrests or accidents. They are typically conducted late at night or very early on weekends and during many major holidays that typically see celebrants toasting the day with a beer or a few drinks.

The Constitutionality of DUI Checkpoints

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Furthermore, the amendment states that this right cannot be violated unless there is probable cause to do so. Consequently, some states have determined that the practice of sobriety checkpoints violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights because they are, in effect, warrantless searches that are absent  probable cause. The Michigan State Supreme Court found that sobriety checkpoints violated the Fourth Amendment. However, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that when properly conducted, checkpoints are legal, and reversed the Michigan Court’s decision. Please see Michigan State Police v. Sitz – 496 U.S. 444 (1990) for the full ruling.

Maryland has joined the vast majority of states that have found the benefits of sobriety checkpoints in reducing the number of DUI-related accidents and deaths outweighs potential encroachment on the constitutional rights of drivers.

Legal DUI Sobriety Checkpoints in Maryland

Law enforcement officials do not have the authority to set up DUI roadblocks based on arbitrary protocol. SCOTUS and Maryland statutes have outlined strict requirements for conducting sobriety checkpoints in the state. They are required to follow these specific requirements in order for any evidence obtained during the checkpoints to be admissible in court.

Here are the legal requirements for setting up a DUI checkpoint on a Maryland roadway or highway:

  1. The checkpoint must be systematic, non-arbitrary, and nondiscriminatory.
  2. Officials must give public notice in advance of the checkpoint.
  3. Roadway signs must give drivers advanced warning of an approaching sobriety checkpoint.
  4. Drivers must be given the option to turn their vehicle around to avoid passing through the checkpoint.
  5. Officers are prohibited from stopping a vehicle because a driver turned around unless the driver does something that provides justification for a legal traffic stop.

The “systematic” stipulation requires officials to outline a pre-determined, standard pattern, and sequence of activities to occur during the check. Officials are not allowed to target or decide who they will stop, but must choose a random process outlined ahead of time – such as every third car. This removes individual subjectivity, discretion, and actions from tainting the process. In addition, police officers must wear their official uniforms and use official police vehicles when conducting sobriety checkpoints.

What to Do When You Approach a DUI Checkpoint

Police officers will be scanning for traffic violations or erratic behavior that can be associated with driving under the influence of alcohol. They also look for equipment violations and may ask questions such as, “Have you been drinking alcohol tonight?”

When passing through a checkpoint, remain in your vehicle and keep up with the traffic flow. Pay attention to where the signs warning you of the checkpoint are located. You want to keep the line moving to avoid suspicion. Make sure that you are compliant with the directions given by the officer or officers. Pay close attention to the sequence and which vehicles and drivers ahead of you get waived through the checkpoint.

If you are arrested for DUI, you should not speak to the officer or allow a search of your vehicle until you consult an attorney. Contact a Maryland DUI attorney to find out what your rights are under the circumstances. It is important to determine if the checkpoint setup meets the requirements of the law. A skillful attorney can determine the checkpoint’s legality and if any subsequent action was improperly conducted by evaluating a variety of factors such as the posting of signs and offering drivers the ability to avoid the checkpoint.