Law enforcement officers in Pennsylvania often use sobriety checkpoints in order to identify and arrest drunk drivers. Although it appears that such stops are in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the U.S. Supreme Court held that if certain conditions are met, the community need to be protected from the dangers of drunk drivers trumps the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens. It left it to the states to determine whether or not to allow such checkpoints and if allowed, to establish standards that must be used in order not to run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the legality of sobriety checkpoints. In order to be legal under the Pennsylvania High Court ruling, Philadelphia Sobriety Checkpoints must comply with the following criteria.
- Before conducting a sobriety checkpoint, law enforcement officers must submit their plan for the date, time and location of the checkpoint to a magistrate who must approve the plan after determining it meets legal standards.
- The route selected for the checkpoint must be one that is likely to be driven by intoxicated drivers.
- The checkpoint must be at a time when it is most likely to be traveled by intoxicated drivers.
- The public must be made aware of the checkpoint in advance or at least make the checkpoint visible from a distance in order to avoid motorists being unduly surprised by confronting the checkpoint. It is legal for a driver to make a u-turn in order to avoid being stopped at the check point providing a u-turn is a legal maneuver at that location.
- The stop must be brief, allowing an officer a limited amount of time to observe the driver. A physical search of the car is not allowed unless after the stop, the officer develops reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts that a crime has been committed.
- Stopping of cars cannot be arbitrary, but according to a set plan, such as stopping every second car or every fourth car.
- Although the purpose of the checkpoint is to check on sobriety, officers in Pennsylvania use the opportunity to issue citations for expired registration, tinted windows, broken taillights or arrests for drug violations.
Challenges to an arrest pursuant to a sobriety checkpoint
If you were arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) at a sobriety checkpoint, call Attorney Ken Chotiner. He has been practicing law since 1996 and now focuses his practice on defending those charged with driving under the influence (DUI). He is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of his clients. If law enforcement did not comply with the established criteria, the sobriety checkpoint may be deemed unconstitutional.