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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > Top Five DUI Checkpoint Requirements

Top Five DUI Checkpoint Requirements


For many years, courts went back and forth on whether DUI roadblocks were legal. The suspension of individual rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment troubled many judges. In contrast, others were willing to bend the rules to help reduce the number of drunk driving crashes.

Finally, public safety won out over individual rights, at least in part. In 1990’s Michigan State Police vs. Sitz, the Supreme Court legalized DUI checkpoints if they meet certain requirements.

If a Virginia DUI roadblock doesn’t meet any legal qualifications, a Leesburg criminal defense attorney can get the stop and, therefore, the arrest, legally invalidated. If that happens, the court prosecution cannot move forward, forcing the state to return to square one or drop the case entirely.

Legislative Approval

Sitz made DUI checkpoints optional. Individual state legislatures must approve DUI checkpoints before they are legal in that state. Virginia lawmakers have approved such roadblocks. However, they didn’t amend the state constitution to reflect that law. Therefore, the Legislature could revoke this statutory permission at any time.

Supervisor Setup

Lawmakers must approve DUI checkpoints in theory and in general. A law enforcement supervisor must set up most specific aspects of checkpoint operation, as outlined below.

As is frequently the case in this area, the law is a bit vague as to who constitutes a “supervisor.” Generally, this person must be a police chief, county sheriff, or law enforcement officer who is directly, or almost directly, accountable to voters. Captains and lieutenants might be supervisors in some cases. Sergeants are rarely supervisors for DUI checkpoint purposes.

Pre-Checkpoint Publicity

The law enforcement agency must publish at least some of these details, such as the exact location and operation times. The purpose of this publication is to give drivers a chance to avoid the checkpoint altogether. Therefore, a single tweet or Facebook post is probably insufficient. These solitary alerts don’t reach nearly enough people. However, law enforcement agencies probably don’t need to run full-page ads in multiple local newspapers.

Judges have almost exclusive discretion to draw the line between sufficient and insufficient pretrial publicity.

Safety First

All sobriety checkpoints in Northern Virginia must be clearly visible and in reasonably safe locations.

Clear visibility usually means sufficient signage. These signs must state the purpose of the roadblock (DUI Checkpoint Ahead) and give drivers basic information (Have Drivers’ License and Proof of Insurance Ready). The signs must be far enough away from the checkpoint to give drivers a chance to turn around. Additionally, the area must be well-lit.

On a related note, drivers must comply with basic “license and registration please” commands. But they need not answer any other law enforcement questions.

Surface streets are reasonably safe locations. Highway and on-ramp/off-ramp checkpoints might catch more DUI suspects, but these locations are clearly unsafe.

On another related note, a sobriety checkpoint must be designed to catch drunk drivers. If officers arrest too many suspects for outstanding warrants, drug possession, or other non-DUI infractions, a Leesburg criminal defense lawyer may be able to invalidate the checkpoint.

Limited Duration

Once again, this checkpoint requirement is extremely vague. However, as a rule of thumb, motorists shouldn’t wait more than thirty seconds. The clock starts ticking as soon as motorists get in line.

Officers can change the detention formula to ease extended backups and wave more cars through. The formula must be neutral. Officers cannot only detain motorists who don’t look right.

Reach Out to a Thorough Loudoun County Lawyer

There’s a big difference between an arrest and a conviction in criminal law. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Leesburg, contact Simms Showers, LLP, Attorneys at Law. Convenient payment plans are available.



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