DUI checkpoints are currently prohibited in the State of Washington. DUI checkpoints refer to police action where they stop vehicles at a certain point on a nondiscriminatory basis to check for signs of driver impairment. While DUI checkpoints have proven effective in some jurisdictions, Washington State courts have found the use of such checkpoints to be in violation of the State Constitution.
Generally, the State Constitution protects individual privacy rights in the home or private affairs. The State Supreme Court interpreted this right to protect individuals from warrantless searches and seizures such as at DUI checkpoints. In 1988, the State Supreme Court specifically ruled that the Seattle Police Department's DUI checkpoint program of stopping drivers at a given time and place violated these privacy protections.
The Seattle police argued that they chose their locations and times for the DUI checkpoints based on data showing past patterns of impaired driving. However, the court noted that less than one percent of those stopped at the checkpoints actually involved impaired driving.
The State Supreme Court held that sobriety checkpoints involve seizures, and so they are only valid if there is legal authority to conduct the seizure. The Court said that the Police Department failed to provide any argument as to why there is legal authority to conduct the stops especially in light of the low violation rates.
However, the Court did leave open that checkpoints may be authorized later if there is a properly drafted state or local law that would balance the state's interest in stopping drunk driving against the privacy interests of individuals. Properly drafted law would need to consider the discretion given to officers conducting the checkpoints, the location of checkpoints, and advance notice given to the public about the checkpoints.
Contact a Seattle DUI Attorney
Washington DUI laws are complicated and constantly evolving. If you have any questions about a DUI charge, talk to an experienced DUI attorney. Schedule a consultation with an attorney at Wolff Criminal Defense to discuss your case by calling 425-284-2000.