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Are DUI Checkpoints Ever Illegal in Illinois?

DUI checkpoints are generally not welcome by drivers, even if they are behind the wheel completely legally (read: sober). While many states do not actually conduct DUI checkpoints, Illinois is not one of them. This means you likely will encounter one, if you haven't already.

So, can DUI checkpoints ever be illegal? Here is some background information and the answer to that question.

4th Amendment Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This means that no police officer is allowed to "seize" a person and search them (essentially what a DUI checkpoint is) without at least reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion requires that officers at least have a justifiable suspicion, based on the circumstances, that there is illegal activity afoot or imminent. It doesn't require 100% certainty, but at the very least an objective amount so that any other person might agree.

DUI Checkpoints Constitutional

So, how does this make DUI checkpoints legal, if there's really no way for police to have a justifiable suspicion that every car they stop contains a drunken driver?

Courts have held that DUI checkpoints are an exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DUI checkpoints are constitutional in the 1990 case of Michigan v. Sitz. Under a balancing test, DUI checkpoints always seem to come out on top as legal because their importance outweighs the minor inconvenience to drivers.

When DUI Checkpoints Aren't Constitutional

DUI checkpoints can still be unconstitutional in Illinois, however. Because DUI checkpoints are a special exception, they are expected to be conducted according to the strictest of protocols. This includes a few rules that, if not followed, can be grounds for your case to be dismissed. For example:

  • Checkpoint stops must be random. Police cannot choose which cars they want to stop, but must adhere to a sequence. For example, every other car, or every three cars.
  • Breathalyzer tests can only be used when there's reasonable suspicion. Police are not allowed to make every stopped driver take a breath test. They are only able to if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated.
  • Plans must be submitted. Although checkpoints seem like a random surprise, law enforcement agencies are required to submit prospective plans for a checkpoint for approval from a magistrate first, to ensure that it complies with all other legal standards. This includes disclosing the chosen sequence they will use to stop vehicles.

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