Are DUI Checkpoints or Roadblocks Legal in SC?

DUI checkpoints are legal in SC if they meet the constitutional requirements that have been announced by the US Supreme Court and SC’s appellate courts.

If you are stopped at a checkpoint, if police see or smell evidence of a crime (alcohol or marijuana, in most cases), and if you are arrested, you might be able to challenge the constitutionality of the roadblock in court.

When DUI checkpoints do not meet the constitutional requirements that we will discuss below, any evidence that is found during the search of your vehicle or your person may be suppressed at trial and your case may be dismissed as a result.

So, what is the law on DUI checkpoints, and what are the constitutional requirements for roadblocks in SC?

What is the Law on DUI Checkpoints in SC?

Although police are permitted to set up DUI checkpoints, they cannot set up roadblocks anywhere for any reason.

A traffic checkpoint cannot be set up for “general criminal deterrence,” and it must be either for 1) DUI enforcement or 2) a general license checkpoint where officers briefly check your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information.

Requirements for a license checkpoint or DUI checkpoint in SC include:

  • There must be a reason for the roadblock – for example, if the state can demonstrate there is a higher rate of DUIs in a particular area or on a particular highway, the checkpoint may be justified.
  • There must be a plan for the roadblock – law enforcement can’t just set up a random checkpoint wherever or whenever they want. Supervisors must review and approve the reason for the checkpoint, the location of the checkpoint, and the procedures for the checkpoint, and a supervisor must oversee the operation of the checkpoint.
  • Roadblocks must be announced in advance – although it is not always easy to find, checkpoints should be announced via local media outlets or social media.
  • Vehicles cannot be stopped randomly – there must be a set pattern like every car, every second car, or every third car. Why? History has demonstrated that random stops = stopping black and brown motorists more frequently…
  • The roadblock must be visible, identifiable as an official DUI or license checkpoint, and safe for motorists. Only uniformed law enforcement officers should be used, the checkpoint should have sufficient lighting, and there must be sufficient warning for motorists to know that a checkpoint is coming up.
  • The length of the traffic stop must be reasonably brief – there is no set length of time that is acceptable, but it should not take any longer than is required to check the driver’s documentation and send them on their way.
  • The state must demonstrate that the roadblock was in the public’s interest. In other words, the state must show that the checkpoint was effective by documenting the traffic violations or criminal offenses that resulted from having a checkpoint in that particular location.

Can Police Set Up Checkpoints for Seatbelt Compliance?

SC law prohibits the use of license checkpoints solely to determine compliance with the seatbelt laws, and it also prohibits the issuance of seatbelt tickets to drivers who may have removed their seatbelt to retrieve documentation at a roadblock.

Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?

DUI checkpoints or license checkpoints are constitutional if they follow the rules announced by the US Supreme Court and the SC appellate courts. Below, I’ll briefly discuss those rules and how they apply to DUI checkpoint cases in SC.

Brown v. Texas

In 1979, the US Supreme Court decided Brown v. Texas which, although it involved the arrest of a person who was walking down the street and who refused to provide documentation to police, has been cited by most courts deciding the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints.

In situations that involve a seizure of a person that falls short of a traditional arrest, the seizure must be reasonable, or it violates the Fourth Amendment. Whether a seizure is reasonable necessarily involves balancing “the public interest and the individual’s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers.”

The US Supreme Court announced three factors to determine whether a non-arrest seizure violates the Fourth Amendment:

  1. “The gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure;”
  2. “The degree to which the seizure advances the public interest;” and
  3. “The severity of the interference with individual liberty.”

Delaware v. Prouse

In 1979, the US Supreme Court also decided Delaware v. Prouse  , where they held that “spot checks,” where an officer pulls over random vehicles to check their license, are unconstitutional. Law enforcement must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring before they can stop a vehicle on the highway.

Michigan v. Sitz

In 1990, the US Supreme Court decided in Michigan v. Sitz that DUI enforcement is a serious public concern that may justify DUI checkpoints:

No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States’ interest in eradicating it. Media reports of alcohol-related death and mutilation on the Nation’s roads are legion. The anecdotal is confirmed by the statistical. “Drunk drivers cause an annual death toll of over 25,000 and in the same time span cause nearly one million personal injuries and more than five billion dollars in property damage.” 4 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure: A Treatise on the Fourth Amendment § 10.8(d), p. 71 (2d ed. 1987). For decades, this Court has “repeatedly lamented the tragedy.” South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U. S. 553, 558 (1983); see Breithaupt v. Abram, 352 U. S. 432, 439 (1957) (“The increasing slaughter on our highways . . . now reaches the astounding figures only heard of on the battlefield”).

Although the US Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s use of DUI checkpoints, the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed. When the case was remanded to the state court, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the use of DUI checkpoints violates the Michigan State Constitution:

Because there is no support in the constitutional history of Michigan for the proposition that the police may engage in warrantless and suspicionless seizures of automobiles for the purpose of enforcing the criminal law, we hold that sobriety checklanes violate art 1, § 11 of the Michigan Constitution.

Indianapolis v. Edmond

In 2000, the US Supreme Court held in Indianapolis v. Edmond that a vehicle checkpoint whose purpose are “general crime control,” such as to look for drugs, are unconstitutional.

Although it is unconstitutional for law enforcement to say we’re looking for drugs at this roadblock, the Court still noted that DUI enforcement and license checkpoints are valid.

Of course, the real purpose of DUI checkpoints and license checkpoints is not just to look for DUI’s. It’s also to look for drugs and money – as the officer checks your license, they take a sniff of your vehicle for alcohol or weed, they have a look through your car window for any contraband (drugs) that might be in plain view, they ask you questions to attempt to develop probable cause for a search, and they use the opportunity to make drug arrests and seizures of cash…

That’s constitutional, as long as the officers don’t say that’s what they’re doing and as long as they dot their I’s and cross their T’s with a game plan that clarifies that their purpose is not general crime control. Even though it’s a lie, and their purpose clearly is general crime control, drug enforcement, and lust for forfeiture funds…

State v. Groome – SC Law

In 2008, the SC Supreme Court found in State v. Groome that a checkpoint’s true purpose was general crime control, and therefore it violated the requirements of Indianapolis v. Edmond, where:

  • The “Directed Patrol Unit,” a unit that was specifically dedicated to crime suppression issues, conducted the checkpoint;
  • A K-9 patrol unit participated in the checkpoint (what were the dogs trained to detect? Not driver’s licenses or alcohol…); and
  • At trial, the State did not produce evidence of “the plan, procedures, or duration of the roadblock, nor was any evidence of a protocol introduced…”

The SC Supreme Court also noted that the State must introduce some empirical evidence of the effectiveness of the roadblock – such as data on how many arrests were made or how many tickets were written in the area – in order to satisfy the second Brown v. Texas factor, “the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest.”

The Court rejected the state’s argument that every roadblock is effective “because, by its very nature, every license check roadblock determines whether the driver is legally licensed,” and held that a license checkpoint violates the Fourth Amendment when the state does not “produce empirical data to support the effectiveness of its roadblock.”

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

Grant B. Smaldone is a criminal defense trial lawyer in Charleston, SC who accepts all types of drug cases in the Eastern SC area.

If you have been charged with a drug crime in Charleston, SC or the surrounding area, call now at (843) 808-2100 or schedule a consultation through our website to talk to a Charleston, SC criminal defense lawyer today.