Sobriety Checkpoints

In Fairfax and other counties in Virginia, various law enforcement agencies, such as the Fairfax County Police Department and the Virginia State Police, utilize sobriety checkpoints to arrest drivers for DUI.  These checkpoints generally involve police officers setting up a roadblock, stopping drivers, and examining them for signs of intoxication.  This examination usually consists of an alcohol breath test, but the officers may also ask the driver to complete roadside field sobriety tests – a series of activities designed to test cognitive and motor skills.  Failure to pass one or more of these tests may lead to an arrest for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI/DUI).

Sobriety checkpoints were held constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz.  The court held that the checkpoints were seizures under the 4thAmendment of the United States Constitution, but that they could be constitutional if they were reasonable seizures.

To be reasonable, the police must follow a set of guidelines set out by the courts. These guidelines attempt to balance the government’s interest in preventing drunk driving against the interest of the individual in limiting unnecessary intrusiveness.  Among other considerations, the checkpoints must be pre-planned, use a mathematical formula when selecting which vehicles to stop, and keep officer discretion to a minimum.  Fairfax County Police officers are not allowed to decide who to stop or how to perform sobriety tests, but are instead required to follow a set plan designed to keep the searches as neutral as possible.

If the police do not follow these guidelines, the Fairfax courts may consider their search unreasonable, and any evidence procured from it, including breathalyzer results, could be excluded from any evidence to be used in a DUI/DWI trial.

If you were arrested for DUI at a sobriety checkpoint in Fairfax County, you may have a defense to your charge. Call to discuss your case with an experienced Fairfax DUI attorney today.