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DUI checkpoints may be counterintuitive; but they're the law

It's not likely to come as a big shock to anyone that police step up their drunk driving enforcement efforts at particular times of the year. Every year, across Virginia and much of the rest of the nation, when a holiday period approaches, authorities kick driving under the influence enforcement into a higher gear.

What may leave some readers puzzled is why they announce the fact that they're going to be stepping things up. Not only do police typically declare their intentions, but they go so far as to publish where they will be and during what times.

Have you ever wondered why that is? The reason is because the U.S. Supreme Court has said they have to. By virtue of a 1990 decision in a case out of Michigan, the high court upheld the constitutionality of the sobriety checkpoints. But they also made it implicitly clear that authorities have to publicize them before they occur.

This stems from the legal premise that police need to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before they pull anyone over. To attempt to enforce a checkpoint without announcing it first, the stops would be tantamount to authorities detaining suspects without reasonable cause -- violating the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure. By giving the public fair warning of where checkpoints will be and when, authorities avoid a potential conundrum.

Interestingly, though, this rule doesn't apply in Michigan, where the initial challenge to the practice first arose. When the Michigan Supreme Court received the case back from the federal level, justices in that state revisited the question and ruled that the checkpoints violate the Michigan constitution.

Checkpoints are valid in Virginia. That's something every driver should be aware of. Still, the mere announcement of where and when these checks will be held doesn't mean that an individual's guaranteed rights are tossed out the window. Anyone facing DUI charges, regardless of the circumstances, should learn what their rights are and act to protect them.

Source: Valley Independent Sentinel, "Why Do Police Announce DUI Checkpoints?," Ethan Fry, Nov. 20, 2012

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