Tennessee Highway Patrol Planned Sobriety Checkpoints


No doubt most drivers have encountered some sort of police run roadblock at which they were asked to show their driver's license before they were able to proceed through the roadblock. Such roadblocks are intended to be sobriety checkpoints and are used to detect individuals who are suspected to be driving under the influence. In order to put up such a DUI checkpoint officers are required by law to disclose the date, time and location of the roadblock. Yesterday, November 4, 2012 the Tennessee Highway Patrol informed the Knoxville News Sentinel of two planned DUI checkpoints. The two DUI checkpoints are scheduled to be set up on Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:00 p.m. on Maryville Pike at Mt. Olive Baptist Church South; and Friday, December 7, 2012 starting at 11:00 p.m. on Oak Ridge Highway at Pellissippi Parkway.

DUI checkpoints are a tricky mechanism utilized by police to detect drunk driving. What makes them so tricky is they appear to be, on their face, an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment which confers upon citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In reality, these types of checkpoints do violate the Fourth Amendment, but to put it simply some violations are allowed under certain circumstances because they further a strong public policy.

In 1997 the Tennessee Supreme Court looked at the issue of constitutionality under the state constitution of DUI checkpoints and held that they are not a per se violation of the state constitution. State v. Downey, 945 S.W.2d 102 (Tenn. 1997). The Court held "as matter of first impression, use of sobriety roadblock, although seizure can be reasonable seizure under State Constitution, provided it is established and operated in accordance with predetermined operational guidelines and supervisory authority." Id. In Downey the Court was mostly concerned with the duration of the seizure and the arbitrary nature of the checkpoint itself. Ordinarily a seizure must be based upon some showing of probable cause or reasonable suspicion but in some instances the public interest allows the Courts and legislatures to carve out exceptions to that rule. DUI checkpoints are one such exception, because of this the Courts now have "[t]o determine whether [a] seizure which is less intrusive than traditional arrest is reasonable, court[s] must balance public interest served by seizure with severity of interference with individual liberty, and central concern is to assure that individual's reasonable expectation of privacy is not subject to arbitrary invasions solely at unfettered discretion of officers in field and that seizure is carried out pursuant to plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on conduct of individual officers."

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 DUI attorneys at The Bowlin Law Firm today.