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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sparks

How Are DUI Checkpoints Legal? What Does the State of Texas Have to Say?

Updated: May 12, 2023

You may have been pulled over at a DWI checkpoint by a police officer in Texas without even realizing that what happened may not have been as above board as you think. It seems very straightforward. You're driving as you usually do when a police officer motions that you should stop and undergo a sobriety test to ensure you aren't drunk driving.

Certain periods seem to be a greater haven for DUI sobriety checkpoints too. These include Independence Day, New Year's Eve, Christmas, and the like. Of course, this is because drivers are so much more likely to be intoxicated with all the fun they typically have on these days.

What if you were told that the law enforcement officer who stopped you may not have been authorized to do so? The question of the legality surrounding DUI roadblocks has come up several times. However, regardless of the legal standing, there are instances where a court may admit evidence obtained from sobriety checkpoints.

It stands to reason then that if you were implicated in any of these checkpoints, then it may be a good idea for you to retain a DWI defense attorney. In Fort Worth, Texas, there's no better option than Sparks Law Firm. Reach out for a free consultation at (817) 381-7846.

The Implied Consent Law

The Implied Consent Law

It's a good idea to get this concept out of the way before talking more about DWI checkpoints. Drunk drivers often think that they're always well within their rights to refuse all forms of chemical testing in Texas.

However, driving in the state subjects you to the implied consent law. Therefore, if law enforcement officers see you on the road and have reasonable suspicion that you are drunk driving, then they are allowed to stop you and subject you to DWI tests.

If you should refuse then you can face an administrative license suspension even before you ever see a Texas court. Pay attention to the validity clause though. If a police officer believes that a DWI is taking place, there must be a good reason.

Understanding How DWI Checkpoints Work

The general reason for DWI checkpoints is to mitigate the presence of drunk drivers and the damage that they may cause on the road. Vehicles that pass through DWI roadblocks are all stopped.

A police officer requests the license and insurance from the driver while observing if there are any signs of drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs is present. A breath test or a blood test is then requested under any of the following circumstances:

  • The smell of alcohol is present in the vehicle

  • Drivers have bloodshot eyes or have slurred speech

  • There's visible drug paraphernalia or open alcohol containers

The cause is noble, but DWI checkpoints in Texas are not the same as in other states that may have sanctioned their use. Call an experienced DWI defense lawyer if you were made to stop at a checkpoint by a police officer and are now facing charges because of the incident.

How the Police Legally Handles DWI Arrests

This comes back to what was said above about suspicion and the implied consent law you must abide by when in the state of Texas. In a case where police officers explicitly notice that a driver could pose a problem to personal or public safety because of suspected drug or alcohol use, that constitutes probable cause for suspicion. Some of the actions that may cause such an occurrence are:

  • Dangerous driving

  • Inability to stay in a single lane

  • Running traffic lights or ignoring stop signs

  • Driving with the headlights off after dark

Are Sobriety Checkpoints Lawful in the USA?

The legality of DWI roadblocks is a concern that spans the entire country, which means that people are often concerned about their legality on a national scale. The Supreme Court attempted to answer this question in an incident dating back to 1990.

Back then, the case at the center of scrutiny was that of the Michigan State Department of Police vs Sitz, on the matter of DUI checkpoints' validity.

At this time, the respondents indicated that DWI checkpoints violate the fourth amendment. This is because of the lack of the probable cause rule whenever a DUI roadblock is at play. Law enforcement sets a precedent where it can flag down a vehicle at will. Of course, the conclusion the respondents drew was that the unreasonable searches and seizures that a sobriety checkpoint gives rise to contravene provisions made by the US Constitution.

As far as the ruling went, the Supreme Court maintained that a DWI checkpoint does not amount to unreasonable searches or seizures. Instead, they were categorized as reasonable seizures since they're meant as a public safety measure.

The Supreme Court further went on to state that a DUI checkpoint is not unconstitutional because it disturbs a single person or violates that one person's right to privacy.

Since then, 37 states adopted the same position, which makes DWI checkpoints lawful. However, 13 states including Texas, took a contrary position.

What Makes a DWI Checkpoint Illegal in Texas?

Now, it's time to scope the DWI checkpoint matter down to Texas. As indicated above, Texas was one of 13 states that took the opposite position that the Supreme Court did. Therefore, the matter of DWI roadblocks is still seen as both unconstitutional and unlawful.

Apart from the probable cause consideration that a law enforcement officer would have to bypass for DWI checkpoints to work, Texan courts maintain that the checkpoints also violate article 1(9) of the State Constitution. Article 1 is the one that establishes the Bill of Rights in Texas.

The specific article being referenced indicates that every person in Texas has the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure operations.

Note that the Supreme Court does speak to the fact that there are competing interests in the areas of public safety and individual rights. However, the court maintains that the public safety requirement outweighs that of the right to privacy.

While Texas acknowledges this perception, it holds that DWI checkpoints still cannot be declared legal. This is because while they do promote public safety, there is no real regard for how a law enforcement officer may conduct the stop and search.

How the Holt V. State Case Shaped the Future of Texas Law

This is arguably the largest historical case in a Texas court that speaks to why a DWI checkpoint would not be deemed legal. The case facts indicate that Arlington law enforcement officers had set up a sobriety checkpoint in Arlington city. Regina Holt, the appellee, was arrested for drunk driving after a police stop.

A suppression motion was filed by Holt, which intended to have all evidence collected at the DWI checkpoint excluded. Of course, this was based on the notion that both the fourth amendment and Article 1(9) were violated.

The eventual determination for this case came about in 1994, and it was a fundamental reason for the establishment of Texas being among the 13 states that stand contrary to the others.

Of course, this was not the only case that helped to reinforce the decision. For example, there was a 1991 case (State v. Wagner) in which a man was stopped at a checkpoint in Dallas. Eventually, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that DWI roadblocks were indeed illegal purely due to the way law enforcement officers used them.

Probable Cause Can Make Evidence Harder to Dismiss from DWI Checkpoints in Texas

Earlier, there was a mention of the probable cause rule and how it can lead to intoxicated drivers facing charges and make evidence from checkpoints legal in Texas. All the prosecution would need to do is prove this cause and all the evidence against you would become admissible.

When you're asked for your docs, the speech and other concerns mentioned above are not the only indicators that you may be intoxicated. Even if you were to be fumbling around while trying to find your documents, it could be an indication that you're not sober.

After suspecting you to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you are usually required to take a breath test. Note that you can refuse it, but experienced attorneys advise against doing so as this is easier to fight in court than a blood test is since the latter is more accurate.

The blood test requires a warrant, but the officer can procure this in no time at all for the test to be taken. Typically, if the results indicate that you are intoxicated, you are then arrested. In this case, in lieu of the checkpoint, you may still have given a reason for the officer to suspect you.

What the prosecution must do in this case is prove that none of the actions taken were unconstitutional.

DWI Penalties in Texas

After a DUI, you have your arraignment process followed by a preliminary hearing and an eventual trial. Of course, upon arrest for a high blood alcohol content, there's an immediate license suspension. However, the focus here is on the criminal penalties that you may face for the occurrence.

First Offense

This is a misdemeanor charge and a DWI defense attorney has the easiest time here as the courts show greater leniency, considering a lack of history of this kind of behavior. Nevertheless, you could end up with a one-year driver's license suspension, fines of up to $2,000, and jail time of up to six months.

Note that if your blood alcohol content is over 0.15%, both the maximum fines and jail sentence double to $4,000 and one year respectively.

Second Offense

If the police should bring you in for intoxicated driving after an initial conviction, then the penalties get slightly steeper. Your fines could run up to $4,000, your jail sentence can be up to one year, and you may end up with a two-year driver's license suspension.

Third and Subsequent Offenses

Penalties don't get any worse after a third DUI. In this case, you're in felony territory. You could be required to pay fines up to $10,000, have your license suspended for up to two years, and be facing up to 25 years of jail time.

Driving Through a Legal DWI Checkpoint Elsewhere

Considering that DWI checkpoints are not legal in Texas, drivers may forget about this when they leave the boundaries. Bear in mind that the following states have all made DWI roadblocks legal:

  • Alabama

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Hawaii

  • Illinois

  • Indiana

  • Kansas

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Mississippi

  • Missouri

  • Nebraska

  • Nevada

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Ohio

  • Oklahoma

  • Pennsylvania

  • South Carolina

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Utah

  • Vermont

  • Virginia

  • Washington D.C.

  • West Virginia

Therefore, you want to be mindful of this difference as you traverse the road. Nevertheless, even these states are not without their restrictions which render the roadblocks invalid if the following conditions are not met:

  • Reasonably located

  • Procedures established by a law enforcement officer at the supervisory level

  • Appropriate safety measures are present

  • The duration of the checkpoint is acceptable

  • Advanced notice of the checkpoints provided to the public

Tips to Be Considered When You Are Passing Through a Sobriety Checkpoint

As you drive through a DUI checkpoint on Texas roads, there are a few things to bear in mind to make your interactions with the police smoother.

First, you want to stay as calm as possible. It's not very hard for a police officer to interpret anxiety as intoxication.

Next, do not deny the breath test, especially if you know that you've done something to arouse the officer's suspicion.

Provide your documents if the police ask for them, but remember that you are under no obligation to provide answers to any of the questions an officer may ask, including those aiming to find out if you have been drinking.

Are Non-DWI Checkpoints Legal in Texas?

Are Non-DWI Checkpoints Legal in Texas?

The information above speaks purely to the concept of DWI checkpoints, which are those aimed solely at allowing the police to check drivers at will to see if a DUI is being committed.

Other checkpoints may be put in place for other reasons and you may find that the same subset of rules doesn't apply.

Retain an Experienced DWI Defense Lawyer Today if You Were Stopped at a DWI Checkpoint

Clearly, the ruling by the Texas Court brands DWI checkpoints as illegal. However, Texas drivers know that things are not so straightforward. Not only must you handle the situation as delicately as possible, but you must also do so without inadvertently surrendering your rights.

Your best bet to fight a DWI charge arising from a sobriety checkpoint is to retain an experienced defense lawyer. Additionally, you want to do so as quickly as possible to ensure that you are prepared for the upcoming proceedings. A good lawyer will be able to handle all questions regarding DUI cases, such as what happens if someone gets a DUI using your car.

Sparks Law Firm provides a host of legal services to drivers and other clients in Texas and is one of the top law offices in Fort Worth.

Don't let the police take advantage of you at any DWI checkpoint. Instead, call Sparks Law Firm at (817) 381-7496 to schedule a free consultation with an expert DWI attorney in Tarrant County today!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Leeway Is Given to Law Enforcement Officers in Setting up Sobriety Checkpoints in Texas?

The leeway lies in the concept of probable cause. While DWI checkpoints are said to violate a citizen's fourth amendment and are illegal in Texas if the officers stationed at one see a driver who seems to be exhibiting elements of a DWI, then a stop can be done and chemical testing can be requested.

What Is a "No Refusal" Sobriety Checkpoint or a "No Refusal" Weekend?

If an officer wishes to require that you submit to a blood test, a warrant must be obtained. While this is not a very difficult process, it becomes even more expedited than usual during these periods that tend to fall on holidays when the expectation is that drivers are going to be drinking more.

Does the Fourth Amendment Speak to Searches and Seizures?

The fourth amendment offers express protection against unlawful search and seizure operations. It makes it unlawful for any law enforcement officer to stop or seize a driver without acceptable suspicion.

The core principle of DWI checkpoints being illegal in Texas is that they are said to violate the fourth amendment, mostly because there is no proper regulation of how the police function and how they may act during their checkpoint operations.

What's the Point of Announcing Where DWI Roadblocks Are to Be Expected?

The prevailing thought that motorists have is that law enforcement officers want to catch them while they're unaware. Therefore, it's often a bit on the confusing side that the police elect to announce where DWI checkpoints are going to be located in advance.

However, the focus, according to both the NHTSA and the police, is not on catching drivers. Instead, what is meant to be achieved is the discouraging of drivers committing a DWI offense.

What is expected is that drivers who know that checkpoints are out are going to think twice about drinking before driving.


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