A DWI checkpoint is a powerful tool used by law enforcement in some states. These checkpoints are roadblocks used to screen for drunk drivers. In some cases, the police will set up roadblocks on days where a high number of intoxicated drivers are suspected, like New Years' Eve or July 4th.
The procedure at each DWI checkpoint differs. In some instances, every driver that comes through is given a breathalyzer. In other cases, drivers are only stopped at intervals. Other times, officers who suspect a stopped driver is intoxicated will investigate further. In many cases, this will result in their arrest under suspicion of DWI.
However, the constitutionality of DWI checkpoints has long been a divisive issue. While the United States Supreme Court has ruled that checkpoints may be used in some cases, not every state allows them. That begs the question: are DWI checkpoints legal in Texas?
Federal Law Regarding DWI Checkpoints
In 1990, the Supreme Court took up the issue of whether DWI checkpoints were constitutional. Detractors argued that being stopped at a checkpoint – no matter how briefly – constitutes an illegal seizure. The Court disagreed, holding states could authorize checkpoints if there is a reasonable system used by police. Typically, this involves DWI checkpoints that are minimally intrusive.
Law enforcement in most states are required to create a system for selecting drivers to test. The decision of the Court gave each state the ability to set up their own guidelines. In total, all but 12 states developed a system to allow these checkpoints. Texas is one of those 12 states.
DWI Checkpoints in Texas
In 1991, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued their own ruling on checkpoints. They disagreed with the Supreme Court's holding and refused to provide guidelines that would allow law enforcement to use roadblocks for DWI. For this reason, DWI checkpoints are illegal in Texas.
According to the Court of Criminal Appeals, stopping a car based solely on the road they chose to drive down violates the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Even a brief stop at a checkpoint results in an unlawful seizure, according to the court.
It is important to note this ruling prevents checkpoints designed solely for DWI prevention. There are other instances where you could come into contact with law enforcement or even be subject to a checkpoint. Any time you make contact with law enforcement, they can detain you if they have reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, police operating a checkpoint in an attempt to locate an escaped fugitive may still detain you if they have reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking.
Let a Houston DWI Defense Lawyer Answer Your Checkpoint Questions
If you find yourself placed under arrest under suspicion of DWI at a checkpoint, it is crucial that you speak with a DWI defense attorney right away. If law enforcement used a checkpoint as a pretext to investigate drunken driving, your attorney could have your case thrown out. To get the answers to your questions, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.