An encounter at a DUI checkpoint between a college student and a police
officer in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is gaining national attention and
sparking much conversation around water coolers about the constitutional
validity of DUI checkpoints (alternatively known as sobriety checkpoints).
The video of the encounter has amassed over 3 million views on YouTube
as of the time of this blog post. The video can be found at
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is incorporated
into Article I, Section 7 of Tennessee's state constitution, guarantees
American citizens the right to "be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."
Furthermore, "general warrants" are prohibited by the state
and federal constitutions. General warrants allow officers to search suspected
places without probable cause, and to seize persons not named in the warrant,
whose offenses are not particularly described and supported by evidence.
State v. Downey, the Supreme Court of Tennessee concluded that a sobriety checkpoint,
although a seizure that is not necessarily based on probable cause, can
be a reasonable seizure under the Tennessee Constitution. 945 S.W.2d 102,
104 (Tenn. 1997). In order to remain constitutional, the checkpoint must
have predetermined operational guidelines that minimize the risk of arbitrary
intrusion on individuals and limit the discretion of law enforcement officers
at the scene. Id. In justifying this ruling, Tennessee's highest court
recognized the state's "compelling interest" in detecting
and deterring drivers who are under the influence of drugs.
Id at 107. To determine whether there existed a compelling interest, the
court used a balancing test to weigh the public interest in safe roads
against an individual's Fourth Amendment interests. Id. That balancing
test was borrowed from the United States Supreme Court. In
Camara v. Municipal Court, the nation's highest court used three factors to determine whether
a law could favor the public interest over individual constitutional protections:
the public interest to be achieved, the ability to achieve the public
interest, and the invasion caused to the citizen's privacy. 387 U.S. at 534.
The consensus among courts seems to be that the public interest in less
hazardous roads outweighs relatively minor inconveniences for drivers
to a degree large enough to justify a
prima facie (on its face) violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court has
pointed out that more people have died as a result of driving under the
influence than from all the wars fought in United States history.
Michigan v. Sitz, 496 U.S. at 456 (1990).
What can police officers do at DUI checkpoints? They are only allowed to engage a driver enough to make a determination
as to whether the driver is drunk or not. This includes quick conversation,
smelling any odor coming out of a car or on the driver's breath, and
visual inspection of the driver's face.
As of now DUI checkpoints are constitutional but there are still many scenarios
which take place which can invalidate one or more of the actions taken
by officers during their execution of DUI checkpoints. Such as the amount
of time you are detained and what types of questions you are asked can
make a difference in your specific DUI case. So if you have been
charged with DUI or other driving related offenses as a result of a DUI checkpoint it is
important for you to contact an experienced DUI attorney today. To protect
your rights or learn how we can help your specific case, please feel free to
contact the experienced Hamblen County DUI attorneys at The Bowlin Law Firm today.