A DUI checkpoint was recently held on a California roadway from 9:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., and, while the checkpoint resulted in over 1,021 drivers being stopped, the checkpoint resulted in zero DUI arrests. Both the U.S. Supreme and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts have held that DUI checkpoints are legal despite the fact that they stop people without individualized suspicion of criminal activity. Almost everyone is aware that constitutional protections require the police to have probable cause to arrest a person. While an arrest requires probable cause, the law only requires that the police have reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity in order to detain that person and conduct an investigation.
Police Detention Generally Requires "Individualized Suspicion" of Criminal Activity
A critical element is that the police must generally have "individualized" suspicion that the person being detained or stopped was engaged in criminal activity. A great example of individualized suspicion arises in the context of Underage Drinking as police are routinely called to Penn State Underage Drinking parties, and, in some situations, the police have detained every party attendee and required them to prove that they were over 21 before letting them leave. I have successfully argued that such a practice violates a person's constitutional rights because the officer did not have individualized suspicion. Basically, in order to detain a person, the officer had to suspect that the particular person being detained had violated the Underage Drinking law, which prohibits a person under the age of 21 from consuming or being in possession of alcohol. Basically, the officer would need to have seen the person holding or drinking alcohol, or the officer could have observed that the person appeared to act drunk, which would support an argument that the person had obviously consumed alcohol. Officers are not permitted to simply assume that everyone attending an Underage Drinking party is guilty and detain everyone until they prove their innocence.
DUI Checkpoints Allow Suspicionless Stops
While the law generally requires that the police have individualized, reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a person violated the law in order to detain the person, DUI checkpoints are an exception to that general rule. DUI checkpoints allow police to stop vehicles and thereby detain drivers without any level of suspicion. Obviously, the goal of a DUI checkpoint is to arrest drunk drivers. Therefore, DUI checkpoints are required to be established at locations and during times that are likely to be travelled by intoxicated drivers. With the DUI checkpoint in California stopping over 1,000 drivers and not resulting in even one drunk driving arrest, it appears pretty clear that someone in the police hierarchy that chose this particular time and location got it wrong.
In Pennsylvania, driving under the influence charges are very serious. Even first offenses often carry mandatory sentences of incarceration, fines, and license suspensions. First-time offenders in State College DUI cases may be eligible to participate in the Centre County ARD program. If you or a loved one are charged with DUI, contact Penn State DUI lawyer Jason S. Dunkle.