DUI Checkpoints: A History

Roadblocks, or checkpoints, first appeared in significant numbers in the 1970s. In most cases, groups of officers pulled over every vehicle that passed, ostensibly to verify drivers’ licenses or for some similar purpose. In reality, these checkpoints had one purpose: to allow officers to conduct warrantless searches of persons and vehicles to look for evidence of drug crimes, alcohol offenses, weapons violations, and other infractions.

Despite the fact that checkpoints clearly involved stops without any reasonable suspicion or other basis, most courts upheld them, usually declaring that the intrusions were not unreasonable. To bring some clarity to this issue, in 1990, the United States Supreme Court essentially adopted a set of standards that appeared in a California case a few years earlier.

Factors in Determining Reasonableness

In Ingersoll v. Palmer (1987), a citizens’ group sued to stop roadside police checkpoints in California; the state Attorney General had just approved this technique a few years earlier. The court decided that such checkpoints were legal as long as they strictly adhered to the following conditions:

  • Supervisory Determination: Both the idea for a checkpoint and all the procedures used therein must come from above.
  • No Discretion: Officers may stop drivers based on a preset formula (every driver, every fifth driver, etc.) and not deviate from that formula under any circumstances.
  • Safety Conditions: According to the court, “Proper lighting, warning signs and signals, and clearly identifiable official vehicles and personnel are necessary to minimize the risk of danger to motorists and police.”
  • Location: The department must advertise the checkpoint’s location so motorists have an opportunity to avoid it, if they so choose.
  • Duration: There is no hard and fast rule, but detentions that exceed twenty or thirty seconds are probably unreasonable.

Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, a later U.S. Supreme Court case, did not overrule Ingersoll, so it is largely considered to be the law of the land.

These factors are minimum requirements, so a checkpoint that meets the Ingersoll standard is like getting a “D” on a test.

Current and Future Questions

Because of some recent developments, the bloom may be off the rose when it comes to checkpoints. A 2003 FBI study concluded that checkpoints were largely ineffective, when compared to saturation enforcement and some other techniques. Then, earlier this year, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force criticized the Chicago Police Department for setting up 84% of its checkpoints in black or Hispanic neighborhoods. The racial profiling is just the latest development in a long history of “[f]alse arrests, coerced confessions, and wrongful convictions,” according to the report.

The Supreme Court recently upheld some controversial anti-DUI laws, so it would probably do the same thing if it reviews checkpoints, but such an outcome is far from certain.

Partner with Zealous Attorneys

DUI checkpoints are currently legal under some circumstances. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Schaumburg criminal defense attorney, contact Glasgow & Olsson. We routinely handle cases in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.

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