DUI roadblocks. How are they even legal, and do you support them?

I ran a search and surprisingly didn’t find anything on this.
What do you think about police roadblocks to catch drunk drivers? I think it is weird that they are even legal. I can’t think of a bigger invasion of privacy. They have no probable cause to stop you. Why don’t they set up roadblocks to make sure you don’t have any stolen goods in your car? Or, to make sure no one has a warrant out for their arrest for some unpaid parking tickets? Because it would be ridiculous and the public wouldn’t stand for it.
I don’t advocate drunk driving, but roadblocks aren’t going to help the problem, and they are an invasion into our private lives. I can’t even see how they are legal.

Just in case I have this wrong - DUI (or PCA as it is called in Australia) is just as illegal in the US as it is here, is it not? Do you not - as we do - have different laws from one state to another regarding the blood alcohol concentration with which you may legally drive?

Is there any state in the US where you can drive on public roads with as much alcohol in your system as you like without committing any kind of offence?

You’re seriously concerned about the legality of police departments trying to enforce the law in respect of drunk driving.

Come to Australia. A driver’s license is regarded as a privilege which you earn here - not something to which you have an automatic entitlement.

If you break the traffic laws here - whether in respect of blood alcohol concentration, speeding, not wearing seat belts - then you had damn well better pay the penalty. You knew the rules when you got your driver’s licence; they are advertised both on the roads and in the media all the time, and - yes - you ARE committing serious offences when you breach those laws.

I can’t seriously believe that in the US you need “probable cause” for traffic offences…

Quite clearly, you do not have random breath testing there. Or radar guns. Or “red-light” cameras.

the Supreme Court disagrees w/you, stating that the state’s overriding interest in keeping drunks off the road trumps your individual rights in this case

I’m unsure what the U.S. or (in my case) Canadian courts have said to justify DUI roadblocks.

However, a government-owned highway is public property, and you don’t have an intrinsic right to use it however your personally see fit. Technically, the highway belongs to the people of (insert your country/state here) and through their elected representatives they have chosen to impose drunk driving laws and heavy enforcement measures. If you don’t like it, don’t drive on public roadways.

Given the appalling level of carnage caused by drunk drivers, who STILL account for thousands and thousands of highway fatalities in the U.S. every year, I’d say this is a reasonable limit on personal freedom.

Horhay sobriety checkpoints are legal because the Supreme Court has said they are legal, in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 444 U.S. 496 (1990).

Personally, I’ve always felt Sitz to be a horrible decision. Justice Stevens wrote a cutting dissent, which IMO can be summed up in one quote from it:

One does not wish to be pulled over at 2 A.M. driving home the minister’s wife, even if one is stone-cold sober.


Sua, you or one of the other legal type people here can possibly explain to me the whole deal of sobriety tests being based on walking straight lines etc in the US when in the rest of the modern world you are simply breath tested or blood tested.

I simply don’t get why you would apply a totally subjective test when it is possible to apply an objective test.

I realise that in the US this very possibly gets down to state vs federal powers, but I truly don’t understand it and would appreciate it if someone could explain it to me. (My very limited understanding of the US Constitution is that it doesn’t so much detail what can be legislated at federal level as what CANNOT be).

You cannot fine a person for failing to walk a straight line, reprise. You must subject to a breathylizer test at the station if you don’t do it at the car (or if they don’t have one in the car).

Well, everywhere in the states I’ve lived, anyway. I suppose I don’t know about every single state…

A frind of mine got pulled over and failed the breathylizer but did not get a fine because he passed the filed tests, so I guess even the breathylizer is not totaly objective…at least in Pennsyvania.

Does anyone think the Supreme Court decision to allow these roadblocks could lead to further decisions to allow roadblocks for other things, i.e. warrants for arrest for unpaid parking tickets, or other things that I am sure people would not want to go through a roadblock for?

erislover, does that mean that in your state the highway patrol (or whoever enforces your driving laws) can ask you to walk a straight line as some kind of “straw poll” sobriety test without even asking you to blow in the bag on the spot?

I’ve already said that I don’t understand the US traffic laws, but presumably if you “fail” any given test they choose to give you, that test must carry a POTENTIAL penalty in order for it to be legal in the first place. If not, then it wouldn’t even be legal here, let alone under your much more comprehensive Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Not all police officers/highway patrolmen carry breathalyzers with them, mainly for budgetary reasons. Others do it because the breathalyzer isn’t admissible as evidence in most places either – it can give false positives due to mouthwash, for instance.


Why would a test have to carry a potential penalty for it to be legal?

You aren’t going to be asked to walk the line unless there is an indication that you are drunk; i.e.—swerving, smells like alcohol, empty beer cans thrown out the window, generally incompetent. Performing a roadside test is to see if you have the relatiev coordination to drive. If that is impaired you will be administered a breathylizer test.

You cannot be proven DUI for alcohol until you’ve taken some sort of test like a blood or breathylizer. But you can be taken off the road for looking like you don’t know what the hell you are doing.

I know some cop cars do have breathylizers installed in them, but I think cops try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and in fact they might be compelled to perform these tests before they administer one fit for prosecution.

I have no idea how these roadside tests apply to DUI under drugs that aren’t detectable during intoxication (LSD, Pot, etc).

I was in a situation with a cop, for example, where they asked if I had anything to drink tonight. “Sure,” I said, “I actually had a beer about three hours ago.” So they did a little eye-movement test and sent me on my way (well, on my way to continue the arrest process for some other infraction, but that’s kind of not relevent).

Actually, correction to this: “You cannot be proven DUI for alcohol until you’ve taken some sort of test like a blood or breathylizer.” Maybe you can, I don’t know for sure. But refusal to take these tests where it is required carries the stiffest penalty.

Since I don’t drink and drive, though, this goes off of experience my mother had because she did (quite a few times, in fact), from what I’ve seen on the COPS shows, and reading postings at the RMV/DMV/BMV/whateverMV and at bars.

The answer is a qualified “no.” In 2000, the Supreme Court, in Indianapolis v. Edmond, found that checkpoints to search for drugs are unconstitutional. The distinction the Supreme Court drew is that checkpoints whose primary purpose is indistinguishable from general crime control are illegal, while checkpoints directly related to traffic safety or, in other contexts, particular civil functions like immigration control, are legal, even if they have a crime control element.


Probably not. The Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply, “Roads are public, driver’s licenses are privileges, so police can put up roadblocks.” It was that plus the state’s abiding interest in preventing drunken driving injuries and fatalities. It would be doubtful that the courts would agree that the state has an abiding interest in finding those with unpaid parking tickets that overrides the rights of people to drive without being pulled over.

At the risk of indulging a slight hijack, I think I can answer reprise’s question. First, although it varies by jurisdiction, the hand-held breathalyzers have not been totally accepted by trial courts as admissible. They can be used to help the officer determine whether there is probably cause to believe the driver is drunk, but generally, are not admissible at trial. The breathalyzers/blood testers at the police station are admissible, and are generally used at trial. However, every driver has the right to refuse to take any tests. Most drivers, especially if they are over the legal limit, are much more willing to do field sobriety tests rather than give blood or submit to a breath test. With rare exceptions (physical injury accident where blood is taken by the hospital), Americans have the right to refuse to submit to these tests. Since they can’t force them to submit to breathalyzers, and because drivers are more likely to do field sobriety tests, officers end up relying on the field sobriety tests rather than others. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily call the field sobriety tests subjective either. There is definately an objective component to them.

As far as the extent of the use of roadblocks, generally courts will accept them as a measure to fight drunk driving, but not as a more general investigation techinique such as to find drugs or to find people screwing the minister’s wife.

If a witness says, “I saw erislover drink ten shots of tequila over the course of an hour, then get into her car and drive down the block. That’s when the cops pulled her over,” then you could easily be convicted for DUI even if the blood alcohol test didn’t happen.

Sidewalks are also public property. Given the appalling level of street violenece the police should be allowed to stop and frisk people on the chance that they have an illegal weapon or drugs on them.

I had always thought that the concept behind US law enforement was that you did not enforce the law at the expense of trotting over personal freedoms. Down that road lies a police state.

Driving is certainly a priviledge and not a right. To me the proper response to drunk driving would be modelled on some European countries. They have lower or non-existant drinking ages and will absolutely throw the book at you if you get in a car and drive drunk. No drunk driving classes there but rather jail terms, heavy fines and the like (IIRC some Central American countries potentially carry the death penalty for drunk driving given certain circumstances). If you abuse your priviledge you pay big time for it.

How the SCOTUS felt this intrusion is ok is beyond me. To my mind the SCOTUS shouldn’t bow to political or popular pressure but more and more it seems to be becoming a political creature and that’s a bad thing IMO.

In the US you cannot be forced to take a breathalyzer test (or blood test). If the police have you walk the line and feel you failed it they can demand a breathalyzer test. If you refuse you get an automatic license suspension of six months (at least in Illinois). If you do take the test and fail then there are all sorts of penalties that can be applied and usually differ depending on what state you are in.

A true story of the invasion of privacy at a road block;

A friend was driving on a Sunday afternoon. He and his passenger had been out all day shopping and had lunch at an oriental restaraunt. On the way home the driver had a wrenching pain in his gut. He pulled over but it was too late. He shit his pants. He removed his pants and underewear and discarded them in the ditch. He had a small towel with which he covered himself and continued on his way home. On the way home he came across a road block. He was to embarassed to go through. He turned around. They gave chase. They stopped him. They asked him to get out of the car. He refused replying, “Sir, I have shit upon myself”. He was then allowed to go home after suffering the embarassment not only in front of his friend but also four strangers in uniform who i am sure are still laughing at the poor guy. Roadblocks are an invasion of otherwise law abiding citizens privacy.

Because clearly nobody ever turns away from checkpoints because they are, say, drunk?


A witness describing your drinking habits is not proof of drunkenness.