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Why are DUI checkpoints legal in Pennsylvania?

You have probably heard of Philadelphia-area police setting up DUI checkpoints, especially during holidays like Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. Perhaps you have even had to pass through a checkpoint and gotten arrested as a result.

Even if you haven’t, you may be wondering how these checkpoints can be legal. It’s a good question. After all, police officers are not supposed to pull over a driver unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place inside the vehicle. So why do police get to stop people at a DUI checkpoint regardless of evidence of drinking and driving?

The legal basis

The practice is based on a 1990 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that decision, the Court ruled 6-3 that the public safety concerns regarding DUI outweigh drivers’ right to privacy, and that these police searches are not “unreasonable” under the 4th Amendment.

Some states use DUI checkpoints, others don’t

That ruling allowed states to decide whether to allow DUI checkpoints. Currently, 38 states allow police to set up checkpoints, including Pennsylvania. Some states limit how often police can use this tactic, but in this state they are allowed throughout the year.

The constitutionality of DUI checkpoints is still controversial, as indicated by the 12 states that have banned them

Whether you were arrested for DUI at a police checkpoint or during a traffic stop, you have legal rights. But even when you know your rights, it can be tough to protect yourself during an encounter with the police, during questioning and in court. It’s the job of police and prosecutors to make arrests and get convictions, not make sure the system is fair and does not violate the law. That’s a big part of your defense attorney’s job.


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