The Philadelphia DUI Law Blog

3 Ways to Challenge a DUI Checkpoint Stop in Pennsylvania

Chances are, as a Pennsylvanian, you know what a DUI checkpoint looks like. You may have even gone through one. If you haven't, it's likely that you will. DUI checkpoints are generally not welcome by drivers, regardless of their sobriety. Police officers often make even the most innocent of drivers nervous, the checkpoints are unexpected, and they stall traffic.

Unfortunately, they are completely legal. Despite many states actually implementing laws that forbid DUI checkpoints, Pennsylvania is not one of them. This means that, as a driver in Pennsylvania, you'll likely encounter one.

If you do, and for some reason you are arrested, is that the end? Not quite. Here's a breakdown of DUI checkpoints, and three ways you can challenge one in Pennsylvania.

Why They Are Legal

Under the Fourth Amendment, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Therefore, no police officer is allowed to "seize" a person and/or search them -- essentially, what a DUI checkpoint boils down to -- without at least reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion requires that officers at least have an objective, "articulable" suspicion, (more than a hunch) that there is illegal activity present.

Since it is impossible for police officers to have reasonable suspicion for every car they stop in a checkpoint, the United States Supreme Court has held that DUI checkpoints are an exception to this reasonable suspicion standard, after applying a balancing test. This has also been echoed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Yastrop.

How You Can Still Challenge One

Despite their legality, you can still challenge a stop. DUI checkpoints need to be conducted according to some very specific rules. If you find that these rules aren't abided by, you may have a challenge:

  • Plans must be submitted. Despite the random nature of the stops, the checkpoints themselves must be planned. Law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania must submit their prospective plans to a magistrate for approval to ensured that all legal standards have been met.
  • Breathalyzer tests can only be administered if there's reasonable suspicion. Police officers are not allowed to give every driver stopped a breath test without some suspicion that they are intoxicated. Automatic breathalyzer tests without particularized suspicion  are a clear violation of one's Fourth Amendment rights. 
  • Stops must be at random. The police can not just pluck out certain cars they want to question, or judge off any other subjective standard. Instead, police must adhere to an arbitrary sequence. Every other car, for example, or every four cars.

Stay safe out there, and remember that while you have rules to follow, so do the police.

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