Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Are sobriety checkpoints in Virginia legal?

Every so often, especially around holidays such as the Fourth of July, Halloween and New Year's Eve, police in Virginia will set up sobriety checkpoints as a means of identifying and apprehending drunk drivers. Sometimes a police department will publicize when and where these checkpoints will take place, but sometimes they do not make this information known to the public. This may lead Virginia residents to wonder if such checkpoints are even legal in the first place.

First of all, checkpoints cannot be set up in areas where other drivers, pedestrians or police could be put in danger, due to high speed limits. Also, a sobriety checkpoint can only minimally interfere with the flow of traffic. As far as timing goes, a sobriety checkpoint can be in place for two to six hours. Also, every sobriety checkpoint must be under the supervision and management of a site supervisor and police officers working at them must be in uniform.

Sobriety checkpoints are set up in a manner in which all motorists will be stopped, or a certain percentage of motorists, for example every sixth vehicle, will be stopped. Normally warrant-less searches are against the law. However, sobriety checkpoints have been deemed to be legal because they serve a public safety purpose. That purpose is lowering the number of drunk driving crashes.

That being said, sobriety checkpoints must meet two criteria to be lawful. It must be likely that the sobriety checkpoints will work, and the checkpoint cannot be overly intrusive. Innocent people caught in a checkpoint might become distressed or be late to the place to which they are driving. By publicizing information on when and where checkpoints will take place, this may make them less intrusive.

In the end, if you have been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint and have been accused of drunk driving, it can be a confusing and stressful experience. Those charged with DUI in such situations may want to seek legal advice. A criminal defense attorney can assess the facts of their client's case, to determine if their client's Constitutional rights have been violated.

Source:, "Police don't have to tell you where DUI checkpoints will be, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't," Amy Poulter, Sept. 27, 2017

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