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DUI checkpoints are not permitted in Washington

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2023 | DUI |

Police departments in many parts of the country set up sobriety checkpoints near entertainment districts or during holiday blitzes to identify an apprehend drunk drivers, but DUI checkpoints are not permitted in Washington. Road safety groups support DUI checkpoints and say the slight inconvenience they cause motorists is far outweighed by threat drunk drivers pose to society, which is the argument that convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to rule them constitutional.

Sobriety checkpoints

In states where sobriety checkpoints are permitted, police departments set them up in areas where DUI arrests have been made in the past and motorists are likely to be driving home from bars and restaurants. When drivers pull up to a DUI checkpoint, police officers look for signs of intoxication like:

  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • The smell of alcohol
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Open containers of alcohol in the vehicle

Washington DUI checkpoint case

Drunk driving checkpoints were common in Washington until 1988. That was when the Washington Supreme Court ruled that they violated Article 1, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. The case was a class action brought by a group of drivers who were stopped at sobriety checkpoints in Seattle. The court ruled sobriety checkpoints unconstitutional because police officers who stop a motorist without probable cause or a search warrant act without the authority of the law.

Probable cause

While sobriety checkpoints are not permitted in Washington, police officers in the Evergreen State can still pull vehicles over if they have the requisite reasonable suspicion to do so. They can initiate a traffic stop when they observe a motor vehicle violation, receive a report about a possible drunk driver or have good reason to suspect criminal activity. When police officers notice signs of intoxication during a traffic stop, they have probable cause to make a DUI arrest.