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DUI sobriety checkpoints in Arizona: some key takeaways

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2021 | DUI Charges | 0 comments

Arizona drivers across the Prescott Valley and other parts of Arizona who have encountered DUI checkpoints and interacted with police officers pursuant to their enforcement will likely never forget the experience.

Because it’s jarring.

And almost always an unexpected event. Motorists often happen upon checkpoints (sometimes termed sobriety roadblocks) that seemingly materialize out of nowhere. They are unforeseeable and, for most people, markedly stressful.

Such roadblocks spell anxiety for multiple and varied reasons. Traffic suddenly comes to a crawl, with drivers being diverted to an off-road area. A high-profile police presence is generally visible. Lights are flashing. Some motorists might be performing field sobriety tests outside their vehicles. Others might be standing by while their cars are being searched. Others still are arrested for alleged behind-the-wheel intoxication or other violations.

DUI checkpoint legality: What is Arizona’s take?

One prominent federal government website spotlighting sobriety roadblocks points reasonably at legalities surrounding them. After all, a checkpoint stop does not adhere to the bedrock criminal law principle that citizens cannot generally be detained by law enforcers conducting warrantless searches absent a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

In fact, while roadblocks are common across the country, a sizable minority of states do not permit them.

Arizona is not one of those states. Checkpoints are administered throughout the state at recurring intervals. The above-cited overview notes Arizona’s sanctioning of such enforcement tools based on the view that they are lawful under the U.S. Constitution.

What makes a checkpoint legal – or problematic

The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledges the arguably problematic nature of DUI roadblocks and their no-probable-cause driver detentions. A seminal court ruling holds, though, that a balancing test of interests is the relevant standard for determining checkpoint legality. Namely, “the needs of the state to prevent drunk driving accidents outweigh the minimal intrusion on sober drivers who just happen to get caught up in [a] DUI dragnet.”

That standard entails obvious assessment of whether a given roadblock administration is reasonably limited or patently heavy-handed. Courts examine a number of factors when gauging checkpoint legality. A sanctioned detention will necessarily satisfy these various prongs:

  • Decision to implement a roadblock must be made officially and at a relatively senior level (not randomly, and not by a few police officers out patrolling)
  • Advance notification to the public
  • High visibility confirming legitimacy (e.g., uniformed officers, clear evidence of protocol and decision-making hierarchy)
  • Neutrally employed scheme for detaining motorists (for example, every fifth car)
  • Interaction that is minimally intrusive and limited in nature

An Arizona motorist might reasonably have questions or concerns regarding one or more aspects of a sobriety roadblock detention. A proven DUI criminal defense attorney can provide candid guidance and, when necessary, diligent representation aimed at best-case results in any legal challenge.