Utah Legislators Debate Legality of DUI Checkpoints

The Utah House voted late last month to ban DUI checkpoints based on concerns regarding the legality of these checkpoints.

The Utah House of Representatives voted late last month to ban drunk driving checkpoints based on concerns regarding whether these checkpoints violate a driver’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. DUI checkpoints are used throughout the country to help catch those who are too intoxicated to drive. A typical DUI checkpoint is a type of roadblock that is set up on holidays and weekends and during other times when the number of intoxicated drivers is expected to spike. At these checkpoints, officers often stop every driver to look for signs of intoxication.

A debate concerning the legality of DUI checkpoints has simmered ever since 1990, when the Supreme Court found that “properly conducted” checkpoints were constitutional. The legality of DUI checkpoints continues to be controversial because the Supreme Court’s ruling established an exception to the normal constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In most other contexts, a police officer cannot stop a person without a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Typically, a police officer is also not allowed to begin a search during a stop unless the officer has probable cause to do so.

DUI checkpoints would normally infringe on a driver’s constitutional rights because a driver caught in a DUI checkpoint is stopped without evidence of intoxication and may be subjected to a blood or breath alcohol test without any indication that they are intoxicated.

The Supreme Court created an exception for DUI checkpoints under the belief that the effectiveness of these checkpoints in catching drunk drivers outweighed any infringement on a driver’s rights. Recent data debunks the assumption that DUI checkpoints are effective, however, because half of the states that ban DUI checkpoints appear in the top half of national traffic safety rankings.

“The data shows no correlation between safety with those that do practice checkpoints and those that don’t,” said Rep. David Butterfield, who sponsored the bill that would ban DUI checkpoints in Utah.

Butterfield noted that saturation patrols have proven to be far more effective than DUI checkpoints in catching drunk drivers and called for more such patrols.

The measure to ban DUI checkpoints will now move to the Utah Senate.

It should be noted that the DUI checkpoint ban will not impact Utah’s implied consent laws for DUI stops. As a condition of obtaining a driver’s license, Utah drivers are required to consent to blood or breath tests requested by police officers. This means that although police officers may no longer be able to demand a breath or blood test after stopping a driver at a checkpoint, a driver stopped during a saturation patrol or other traffic stop will still be required to submit to a chemical test and cooperate with a DUI investigation. Drivers who fail to cooperate with a DUI investigation may face an 18-month driver’s license suspension, which can be contested by an experienced DUI defense attorney.

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