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Sobriety Checkpoints: Constitutional Considerations

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 61 Issue: 10 Dated: (October 1992) Pages: 27-32
A L DiPietro
Date Published
6 pages
This article addresses general fourth amendment principles applicable to roadblock stops in the context of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz (1990), in which the U.S. Supreme Court approved a sobriety checkpoint. Recommendations relevant to checkpoint legality are provided.
To analyze the constitutionality of the sobriety checkpoint in "Sitz," the Supreme Court applied the 3-prong balancing test that focused on the gravity of the public concerns addressed by the checkpoint, the effectiveness of the checkpoint, and the severity of the checkpoint's interference with individual liberty. The Court found a significant State interest in reducing drunk driving, based on the extent of the problem. Although the Michigan courts concluded that the Michigan sobriety checkpoints failed the "effectiveness" prong, the U.S. Supreme Court held that although experts in police science might disagree over which method of apprehending drunk drivers is most effective, the choice of implementation should be with law enforcement officials responsible for the allocation of limited police resources. The Court ruled that the 1.5 percent arrest rate was sufficient to establish the checkpoint as a reasonable law enforcement technique to combat a serious public danger. The Court also held that the Michigan checkpoint policy was not sufficiently intrusive to be an unconstitutional intrusion into the liberty of the drivers stopped. Based on the "Sitz" decision, police departments that plan sobriety checkpoints should establish operational guidelines, limit officer discretion, establish objective site-selection criteria, notify the public of the sobriety checkpoint program, narrow the scope of the intrusion, and establish procedures for handling avoidance maneuvers. 24 notes