Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Ohio?

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The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.  When police stop a motorist while they’re driving, this constitutes a “seizure.”

A seizure must be supported by at least a reasonable and articulable facts that would lead an ordinary officer to believe that a crime is or has been committed by that person for the seizure to be constitutional.

So how do the police get away with stopping motorists at DUI checkpoints?  Well, the answer is that the United States Supreme Court has made a DUI exception to the Fourth Amendment.

In Michigan v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the Supreme Court held that DUI checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment, even though they are “seizures,” because the seizure is only minimal (to Justice Rehnquist anyway) and there is a strong governmental need for effective roadblocks to keep drunk drivers off the streets.

Not all of the Supreme Court Justices agreed with the decision, and some of the dissenting Justices pointed out that the Constitution doesn’t make exceptions like this and that the question is whether the police had probable cause to stop the individual driver.

As Justice Brennan wrote, “That stopping every car might make it easier to prevent drunken driving…is an insufficient justification for abandoning the requirement of individualized suspicion.” Brennan concluded by noting that “The most disturbing aspect of the Court’s decision today is that it appears to give no weight to the citizen’s interest in freedom from suspicionless investigatory seizures”.

Some states have decided, based on their state constitutions, that DUI checkpoints are illegal.  Unfortunately, Ohio isn’t one of them.  In fact, the Ohio Supreme Court has even allowed roadblocks for police to check for valid driver’s licenses.  State of Ohio v. Orr, 91 Ohio St. 3d 389.

If you were charged with DUI/OVI after being stopped at a DUI checkpoint, contact an experienced Columbus DUI Lawyer today.