Ohio DUI / Sobriety Checkpoints - The Law, The Rules and The Defenses

Despite our Constitutionally protected rights of privacy and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, law enforcement continues to engage in sobriety checkpoints, stopping and investigating people who have not given the police any reason to think they did anything illegal.  Not only have sobriety checkpoints been shown to be ineffective, they reek of a police state.  The Supreme Court has held that, "[A] Fourth Amendment ‘seizure"’ occurs when a vehicle is stopped at a checkpoint,”  and that, "[a]n individual operating or traveling in an automobile does not lose all reasonable expectation of privacy simply because the automobile and its use are subject to government regulation;" however, it still allows the checkpoints to occur in limited circumstances and with restrictions.

Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court requires courts to review the following three factors:

  1. The particular checkpoint's intrusion on privacy,
  2. The state's interest in maintaining the checkpoint, and
  3. The extent to which the checkpoint advances the state interest.

Several Ohio Appellate Courts also evaluate a four-part test that requires:

  1. A checkpoint or roadblock location selected for its safety and visibility to oncoming motorists;
  2. Adequate advance warning signs, illuminated at night, timely informing approaching motorists of the nature of the impending intrusion;
  3. Uniformed officers and official vehicles in sufficient quantity and visibility to "show . . . the police power of the community;" and
  4. A predetermination by policy-making administrative officers of the roadblock location, time, and procedures to be employed, pursuant to carefully formulated standards and neutral criteria.

The plan for the checkpoint must limit the discretion of the officers conducting the stops, must have advance warning signs, be conducted where the location is safe and provides visibility, and there must be sufficient officers to confirm that it is an official police roadblock.  It must be positioned so vehicles who do not wish to enter can exit and the police may not stop a driver who chooses to make a legal turn and avoid the checkpoint.

The State Highway Patrol has issued Policy Number OSP-200.21, which details "guidelines for establishing and conducting roadside sobriety checkpoints."  When it fails to follow those guidelines, a court may use that to suppress evidence obtained at the checkpoint.  That policy requires things such as:

  1. The site of the checkpoint be selected by an official other than those who will conduct the checks.
  2. The law enforcement agency planning to conduct a checkpoint to demonstrate that there is a significant alcohol crash problem at the location chosen for the checkpoint. The site of the proposed checkpoint must have a significant history of alcohol-related crashes and impaired driving violations. The time and day of the checkpoint must parallel the peak periods of alcohol crash involvement.
  3. The site selection process must consider the safety of motorists and officers. 
  4. The site must allow officers to divert vehicles out of the traffic stream without creating a hazard or traffic backup.
  5. The checkpoint commander will determine the random sequence of the stops and specify the method used to indicate which vehicles are to be stopped. 
  6. The checking officers will greet the driver, screen him/her for the required articulated signs of impairment and either release the vehicle or have the vehicle diverted to the screening area.
  7. Should the initial observation of the driver give probable cause of a violation of 4511.19 ORC, the driver will be diverted to the screening area.
  8. The driver will be screened for alcohol impairment in the same manner as any OVI suspect.

When stopped at a Checkpoint, the officers may conduct their checkpoint-type questioning and consensual searches, but they may not progress to further detention and investigation without an individualized suspicion of criminal activity based on reasonably articulable facts.  Detention of selected motorists for more extensive field sobriety testing continues to require satisfaction of an individualized suspicion.  Signs of drinking are not enough alone without actual signs of impairment because, although it is illegal to drive impaired, having a drink does not necessarily mean that one is impaired.

The bottom line is that sobriety checkpoints do infringe upon our Constitutional rights and protections.  An experienced DUI Defense Lawyer will evaluate how the DUI checkpoint was planned and how it was conducted to develop the best arguments against the checkpoint.  Furthermore, even if conducted properly, the police may not detain for further screening without a reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts that the driver is impaired and it may not arrest without probable cause to believe the driver is impaired.

Citation List:

  • Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U. S. 593 (1989)
  • City of Ashtabula v. Presciano, 2012-Ohio-3418 (11th Dist.)
  • City of Parma v. Odolecki, 2017-Ohio-2979 (8th Dist.)
  • Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648,99 S. Ct. 1391, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1979)
  • Goines. State v. Hirsch, 2014-Ohio-5388 (9th Dist.) 
  • Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, 121 S.Ct. 447, 148 L.Ed.2d 333 (2000)
  • Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 110 S. Ct. 2481, 110 L. Ed. 2d 412 (1990)
  • State v. Bauer, 99 Ohio App. 3d 505, 651 N.E.2d 46 (10t Dist. 1994)
  • State v. Bryson, 142 Ohio App. 3d 397, 755 N.E.2d 964 (8th Dist. 2001)
  • State v. Goines, 16 Ohio App.3d 168, 474 N.E.2d 1219 (2d Dist.1984)
  • State v. Hirsch, 2014-Ohio-5388 (9th Dist.)
  • State v. Hopp, 2016-Ohio-80271 (9th Dist.)
  • State v. Orr, 91 Ohio St. 3d 389, 745 N.E.2d 1036 (2001)
  • State v. Park, 2012-Ohio-4069 (5th Dist.),
  • State v. Robinette, 80 Ohio St. 3d 234, 685 N.E.2d 762, 1997-Ohio-343 (1997)
  • State v. White, 2014-Ohio-555 (3d Dist.).
  • State v. Williams, 181 Ohio App. 3d 472, 2009-Ohio-970 (1st Dist.)
  • Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 88 (1968)
  • United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543 (1976)