Counties throughout Maryland increase sobriety checkpoints for holidays

Field sobriety checkpoints were deemed legal by the Supreme Court in 1990. Maryland officials are planning on using these checkpoints during the holidays.

Tis the season to be merry — for many, this can mean enjoying holiday parties with loved ones, friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, it can also mean spending time at a sobriety or DUI checkpoint while heading home after a holiday party.

What are DUI or sobriety checkpoints?

Sobriety or DUI checkpoints are generally composed of roadblocks with uniformed officers. These officers randomly stop vehicles and check for signs of a potential DUI violation. If the officer believes the driver was drinking, additional field sobriety tests may be conducted.

Are DUI checkpoints legal?

The legality of DUI checkpoints was tested in 1990 in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. Licensed Michigan drivers filed suit against the Michigan State Police Department claiming that the use of these checkpoints was a violation under the protections established in the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, it was argued that the use of sobriety checkpoints violate this protection since police do not have reasonable suspicion to warrant the stop. To decide this case, the lower court used a balancing test derived from an earlier SCOTUS case Brown v. Texas. This test was used to “balan[ce] the state’s interest in preventing accidents caused by drunk drivers, the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints in achieving that goal, and the level of intrusion on an individual’s privacy caused by the checkpoints.” Ultimately, SCOTUS held the state has a “grave interest” in preventing DUI accidents and that the intrusion imposed by these checkpoints is slight. As a result, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the state.

Some states have responded by making these stops illegal under state law. Maryland, however, has not. Instead, the use of sobriety checkpoints remains legal in Maryland.

What should I do if I get a ticket from a checkpoint stop?

It is important for those who are stopped and receive a ticket during one of these stops to know that defenses are available. Even during these stops, protocol must be followed. If proper protocol is not followed, the evidence used to support the ticket may be illegal. This could lead to a reduction or even dismissal of charges. As a result, it is wise for those who are facing these charges to seek the counsel of an experienced Maryland DUI lawyer. This legal professional will review the details of your case and help to better ensure your legal rights are protected.

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