If you’re a typical driver, you get a bit frustrated when a police officer waves you through DWI Checkpoints. You comply because you have no choice. You talk to the officer and you show your license. You wait patiently while he sizes you up and sniffs your car for the scent of alcohol.
If you’re like most motorists, when you drive away you’re still a little irritated, but you’re happy to be released from the ordeal. Even though these encounters are often less complicated than you imagine they will be, they leave you wondering if DWI checkpoints are legal.
Yes, DWI Checkpoints are Legal in Missouri
When you’re sitting in line at a DWI checkpoint, it feels like a violation of your constitutional rights. Law enforcement agencies understand that drivers don’t like the randomness of it. No one likes their evening disrupted that way. The checkpoint process is legal in Missouri, although you will only encounter them occasionally. Since the state legislature stripped their funding, checkpoint operations are too costly for law enforcement agencies to set up and run.
Do Checkpoints Violate Your Constitutional Rights?
The short answer is No. When law enforcement officers randomly pull drivers over for no apparent reason, it defies the concept of probable cause. DWI checkpoints also appear to violate the Fourth Amendment right that prevents illegal searches and seizures. Missouri Courts and courts across the country have dealt with and resolved these issues in favor of law enforcement.
The US Supreme Court used a balancing test when assessing the case, Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). They weighed DWI checkpoints’ effectiveness in saving lives against their obvious intrusion of privacy. The Court’s opinion was that the benefits (reduction in drunk driving fatalities) outweighed the potential Fourth Amendment infringement.
DWI Checkpoints are an Effective Deterrent
As the NHTSA explains, checkpoints don’t necessarily produce more drunk driving arrests. The goal of a checkpoint isn’t to bring in more drunk drivers. They are meant as a deterrent to keep drinking drivers off the road, and it works. The CDC has studied checkpoint effectiveness a number of times over the years. They consistently documented decreases in impaired driver accidents while DWI checkpoints were in force.
Checkpoints are an element of what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls High Visibility Enforcement. To deter drunk drivers, HVE actions follow a consistent formula. They include:
- High visibility: Electronic road signs, illuminated billboards, flashing lights, etc. informing motorists about checkpoints
- Extensive advance publicity: Media messages and publicity that emphasize enforcement
- Planned actions: Officers pulling in drivers at predetermined intervals
- Regularly scheduled checkpoints: Combined jurisdictional efforts and consistent locations
What Should You Do if You Encounter a DWI Checkpoint?
You might have noticed that there aren’t as many checkpoints in Missouri as there used to be, even a few years ago. Checkpoints are expensive to operate, and law enforcement agencies typically rely on grants to fund them. But as checkpoints have become politically unpopular, that funding has dried up. You will still encounter an occasional checkpoint, so it’s important to have an action plan.
Cooperate when an officer waves you into a checkpoint: You really have no other choice. As you enter the line, remember that while you can’t control the officer, you can control your response.
Don’t provide any information about your drinking: You can’t prevent law enforcement officers from doing their job, but you don’t have to incriminate yourself. You are considered intoxicated if you are “…under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or drug, or any combination thereof…” The officer can base a DWI charge on his observations or if you confirm that you’ve been drinking.
Don’t let an officer search your car: You have a right to say no if a checkpoint officer asks to search your car. Don’t give them permission. An officer may still conduct a search if he believes you have evidence in your car.
Cooperate if an officer decides to test you: Under RSMo, §577.020, when you drive in Missouri, you are deemed to have given your consent to a chemical test. You have the right to decline, but if you do, you will lose your license immediately for one year. You may attempt to appeal your suspension.
Pay attention: If a police officer commits an error while interacting with you at a checkpoint, his mistake could help defend your case.
You have the right to avoid a checkpoint: If you notice a checkpoint ahead, you can try to avoid it. Just don’t make any illegal maneuvers while you’re trying to leave. A checkpoint will have many law enforcement officers on the scene, at least one of whom is usually designated as a “chase officer.” A chase officer follows motorists who try to avoid the checkpoint, so you must avoid giving him any reason to pull you over.
Do You Need An Attorney if a Police Officer Arrests You at a Missouri DWI Checkpoint?
If an officer arrests you at a checkpoint, you should contact a DWI attorney immediately. The whole idea of DWI checkpoints is to get drunk drivers off the road. That process begins the moment an officer decides to charge you with a DWI.
In Missouri, a first-time DWI is a Class B Misdemeanor. If the court convicts you, your penalty may include a fine, jail time, and a license suspension or revocation. When you contact an attorney, he or she begins working on your case immediately. A DWI attorney listens to you and helps you decide the best options for defending your case. Contact us right away to schedule a case evaluation.