Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?

A common approach for law enforcement to apprehend motorists who are driving under the influence from alcohol or drugs (“DUI”) in the state of South Carolina is to establish vehicle checkpoints. These checkpoints, or “roadblocks,” not only result in arrests for DUI but also for license and insurance violations, narcotics offenses, and warrant arrests. However, the police cannot merely establish a checkpoint because South Carolina law requires the police to follow established procedures at the checkpoint. Failure to follow these specific procedures can result in loss of evidence at trial. DUI Attorney Trey Harrell is an aggressive Charleston DUI defense attorney who understands how to use the police officer’s failure to follow established checkpoint procedures to help you resolve your DUI case in Charleston or Mount Pleasant.

Challenging DUI Checkpoints in South Carolina:

If you are stopped and arrested for DUI at a checkpoint in South Carolina, you can challenge the legality of the checkpoint. Law enforcement must prove the checkpoint at which you were arrested for DUI meets the proper constitutional requirements. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution mandates that people be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Stopping a driver at a checkpoint is a seizure. Thus, Law Enforcement must prove that stopping motorists at a checkpoint is constitutional, or “reasonable.” Any evidence seized during the checkpoint, including the field sobriety tests and breathalyzer, must be suppressed/excluded from use at trial, if the government fails to prove the reasonableness.

The reasonableness of a traffic checkpoint is determined by balancing these important concerns:

  • The court must balance the significant public interest addressed by the checkpoint and whether the checkpoint advances that public interest with the invasion of privacy that a checkpoint necessarily entails. The US Supreme Court has recognized drunken driving detection, license and registration checks, and immigration checkpoints as valid reasons to establish a checkpoint. Thus, stopping motorists at checkpoints to inquire into these valid public interests must be limited in time and the investigation go no further than the initial encounter, at first.
  • Law Enforcement must prove that checkpoints are effective in addressing the public interest, or that there was some objective reason to set up a checkpoint. The government may offer empirical data proving the effectiveness of checkpoints detecting drivers who violate the law. However, in one case, anecdotal evidence was also been approved by South Carolina’s courts as a reason to establish a checkpoint. In that case, the anecdotal evidence was based upon officers’ observations as well as complaints from the motoring public regarding motor vehicle infractions at a particular location. In addition to the anecdotal evidence, the government proved that this checkpoint resulted in detecting numerous violations of the criminal law, including arrests for DUI, drug offenses, and motor vehicle infractions cited.
  • That means the duration of the encounter must be limited for the checkpoint to be reasonable because the police are detaining a person without proof of any wrongdoing. Detention beyond the brief encounter must be accompanied by proof or a reasonable articulable suspicion, that someone is committing, about to commit, or has recently committed a crime. Additionally, the checkpoint must occur at a fixed position and cannot be a “roving” checkpoint.
  • Police must also follow established written policies in conducting the checkpoints. The written policies must evidence a plan and procedure as to how the officer will encounter the motorists, the purpose of the checkpoint, the duration of the checkpoint, and the time of the checkpoint.
All of these factors will weigh heavily on the decision as to whether or not the intrusion upon a motorist is constitutional. If the government fails to prove the checkpoint encounter was “reasonable” and limited in scope, then the checkpoint was invalid and any evidence seized must be suppressed.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI or DUAC in Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville or anywhere else in the State of South Carolina, it is essential to contact an Attorney immediately. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to give the Trey Harrell Law Office, LLC a call at 843.608.0605 to schedule a FREE consultation with Charleston criminal defense Attorney Trey Harrell or you can simply send him an email directly. At this consultation, Charleston Attorney Trey Harrell will be able to better explain to you the entire criminal defense process, what you are up against, any possible sentences and consequences, as well as begin to put together a plan for defending you, as well as answer any and all of you or your family’s questions.

*About Attorney Trey Harrell: A former prosecutor and judicial law clerk, Trey Harrell defends clients against various criminal charges including drug crimes, DUI, CDV, and fraud charges, as well as college students and juvenile crimes. Additionally, Attorney Trey Harrell also handles Federal and State investigations. He also represents individuals in Civil Matters including Auto Accidents, Wrongful Deaths and various Professional Licensing Defense cases. Trey Harrell is the owner of the Trey Harrell Law Office, LLC, located in Charleston, but serves clients across the Palmetto State.

**Please be aware that the use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship. Attorney Trey Harrell is not your attorney until agreed upon in writing. This website, along with any website to which we link, is designed for educational and informational purposes, not as legal advice. Each person’s legal matter is unique and requires the review of an attorney licensed in that person’s jurisdiction.

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