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Are DUI Checkpoints Legal in Washington State?

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Across the United States, driving while drunk or high is extremely illegal. These substances make it difficult to operate a vehicle safely, impacting concentration, judgment, motor skills, and more. As a result, the state has strict laws that are designed to prevent and punish driving under the influence (DUI).

In many states, police officers set up DUI checkpoints to catch drivers who drive while drunk or high. For residents of Washington state, these roadblocks are unconstitutional. However, police officers still engage in other tactics to detect intoxicated drivers.

DUI Checkpoints Are Unconstitutional in Washington

DUI checkpoints are a common practice by law enforcement officers, who set up roadblocks in certain areas. As drivers pass through the checkpoint, they must stop for the officers to check whether they are under the influence. The police typically set up checkpoints in areas where DUI is common or during holidays where alcohol or drug use is popular.

Fortunately for Washington residents, DUI checkpoints are unconstitutional. In the 1988 case City of Seattle v. Mesiani, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that these roadblocks lack the particularized and individualized suspicion of criminal activity. This violates Article I, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. As a result, police in Washington do not have the authority to establish DUI checkpoints.

Additionally, the State Constitution also protects the privacy rights of individuals at home or in private affairs, including in their vehicles. In the 1988 case, the Supreme Court decided that DUI checkpoints are a form of warrantless searches and seizures and are therefore unconstitutional. 

When Can a Police Officer Pull You Over on Suspicion of DUI?

While police officers do not have the authority to set up DUI checkpoints in Washington, they do have the right to pull over a suspected drunk driver. If the police have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to pull the motorist over, the officers have a legal reason to do so.

There are many driving behaviors that may lead an officer to pull a driver over, such as the following.

  • Driving over the speed limit
  • Making unsafe lane changes
  • Engaging in aggressive or reckless driving
  • Failing to come to a full stop at a red light or stop sign
  • Swerving while driving or failing to stay in the same lane
  • Failing to use a vehicle’s turn signals

Potential Penalties for DUI in Washington State

If you are arrested for DUI in Washington, you could face significant penalties if you are convicted. Consequences may include fines, jail time, and a license suspension of at least 90 days. In fact, DUI convictions come with a mandatory 24 hours in jail, up to a maximum of 364 days, or 15 days on house arrest.

In some cases, police officers arrest people for DUI after pulling them over without just cause. If you are charged with DUI after being randomly stopped by law enforcement, your rights to privacy may have been violated—and the court may be able to drop the charges against you.

In these situations, it is important to speak with a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can evaluate your case and identify whether the officers committed an unconstitutional arrest. Contact a Washington DUI defense attorney as soon as possible following your arrest to discuss your next steps.

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