Spotlighting Arizona DUI checkpoints: some instructive takeaways

It can be jarring and flatly unsettling, even to a seasoned Arizona motorist who thinks he or she has experienced just about every type of traffic scenario.

Today’s blog subject matter highlights DUI checkpoints (also referred to in other ways, such as sobriety checkpoints and DUI roadblocks).

If you’ve interacted with Arizona law enforcers at a checkpoint, you might reasonably recollect a bit of stress and tension linked with the experience. That is true even for many drivers who are only temporarily inconvenienced and soon on their way.

For some select motorists (both those who suffer no downsides and drivers who end up facing criminal sanctions), everything about a roadblock is foreign and stressful, though. A DUI checkpoint catches many drivers by surprise. A detour mandates a sudden diversion and stop in a restricted area marked by a formidable police presence. Flashing lights are a given.

And, yes, some people are arrested and ultimately convicted on drunk driving and other criminal charges.

Which begs this question: What supports a roadblock’s legitimacy?

Legions of drivers believe that legal support for checkpoints must be weak or entirely lacking. Most people have heard of “probable cause” and the bedrock criminal law principle that police must have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before they can stop and question an individual.

One in-depth legal overview of sobriety roadblocks underscores that requirement. It notes that, “Generally, police aren’t allowed to stop a vehicle unless there’s reason to believe a crime or traffic violation has been committed.”

A DUI checkpoint detainment stands as a stark exception to that standard. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court deems roadblocks (“reasonably” administered operations, which is the key determinant) permissible under the Constitution. The above primer cites the court’s rationale that “keeping impaired drivers off the road generally outweighs the inconvenience and intrusion to motorists.”

State officials readily endorse that view. Police agencies in Arizona uphold roadblocks as constitutionally allowed enforcement tools and conduct them across the state with some frequency.

What makes a DUI roadblock reasonable and legally enforceable?

Courts look to a number of factors when assessing checkpoint legality, including these:

  • Advance notification provided to the public
  • Reasonable visibility
  • An objective (unbiased) process for driver selection and police-motorist interaction (for example, every 10th vehicle detained)
  • Communication with a driver that is not unreasonably lengthy or intrusive
  • Evidence of pretextual police conduct

Do I have legal rights if challenging a checkpoint outcome?

Indeed, you do. In addition to the above bulleted factors that can play heavily into a court’s assessment of a roadblock operation, additional defenses can often be raised by an individual facing criminal charges.

A proven and results-oriented criminal defense attorney can identify and employ those defenses. Seasoned and aggressive legal counsel will “examine the evidence, listen to your side of the situation and look for the best strategies that will lead to a dismissal or reduction of charges.”

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