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Challenging a Pennsylvania Sobriety Checkpoint Stop

September 29, 2016

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

If you live in Pennsylvania, you are probably familiar with sobriety, or DUI, checkpoints, which are also referred to as roadside safety checks. You may have encountered one already, possibly around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Police typically like to set them up around the holidays to catch people who have been celebrating, and then decide to drive under the influence.

Arrested for DUI at a Checkpoint?

If you are driving under the influence of alcohol and you are arrested at one of these checkpoints, are you stuck with a DUI charge? Not necessarily. There are ways to challenge DUI checkpoints, however, claiming that your Fourth Amendment right has been violated is not going to be one of them. You will more than likely need an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney to fight the charge.

Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?

The lawfulness of DUI checkpoints has been questioned in Pennsylvania, and unfortunately, in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte and Commonwealth v. Yastrop, the Supreme Court confirmed that these stops are indeed legal under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures, unless, of course, there is probably cause, or reasonable suspicion. However, if the DUI checkpoints do not follow very specific procedures and an arrest at the check point can be thrown out.

An Exception to Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion

Obviously, the police do not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause for every vehicle that is stopped at a DUI checkpoint. It would seem that DUI checkpoints do just that – police officers “seize,” or stop people, hold them basically against their will without probable cause, and then the drivers who appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol are searched. Despite the controversy concerning these Pennsylvania checkpoint stops, they are certainly the exception to the probable cause and reasonable suspicion principles.

While you cannot claim your Fourth Amendment right to get out of a DUI charge arising from a checkpoint, here are three ways to challenge a DUI conviction arising from a checkpoint:

  • A plan was not submitted. Even though these checkpoints seem random, Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies are required to submit a proposed plan and it must be approved by a magistrate before they can set up a sobriety checkpoint. The magistrate will ensure that all legal requirements are met before signing off on the plan. If this procedure was not followed, you may be able to use this to challenge your DUI charge.
  • There was not reasonable suspicion to give the breathalyzer test. Breathalyzer tests cannot be given to every driver at a sobriety checkpoint. Officers must have a reason to ask a driver to provide a breathalyzer test. If the officers did not have a reason to believe you were intoxicated and gave you a breathalyzer test anyway, you may be able to use this as a defense.
  • You were targeted. The officers conducting the DUI checkpoint cannot target certain drivers to question. They must follow a random system of stopping drivers. For example, they can stop every third or fourth car.

If you have been arrested at a DUI checkpoint for driving under the influence, you should contact a Philadelphia DUI attorney immediately. Contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim today for a free consultation.


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