Some law enforcement agencies occasionally set up roadblocks commonly referred to as "sobriety checkpoints" in an effort to apprehend more alleged offenders accused of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Regina H. Holt was arrested for DWI at a sobriety checkpoint set up by the Arlington Police Department in May 1991.
In her motion to suppress evidence seized through the sobriety checkpoint, Holt alleged that the checkpoint violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as Article I, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution. She further claimed that the lack of a legislatively-authorized, statewide administrative scheme made sobriety checkpoints unreasonable and, therefore, unconstitutional in Texas.
The trial court granted her motion and the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Court of Appeals decision. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated in Holt v. State, 887 S.W.2d 16 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994):
Because a governing body in Texas has not authorized a statewide procedure for DWI roadblocks, such roadblocks are unreasonable and unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution unless and until a politically accountable governing body sees fit to enact constitutional guidelines regarding such roadblocks.
While 37 states (and the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands) allow officers to utilize checkpoints, Texas is among the 13 states in which DWI checkpoints are considered illegal under state law.
Lawyer for Arrests at DWI Checkpoints in Houston, TX
If you were recently arrested anywhere in the greater Harris County area for an alleged drunk driving offense as the result of a roadblock, it is in your best interest to retain legal counsel as soon as possible. Horak Law aggressively defends clients facing DWI charges in Houston, Missouri City, Spring, League City, Galveston, Sugar Land, Pasadena, The Woodlands, Conroe, Richmond-Rosenberg, Pearland, and many surrounding areas of southeast Texas.
Matt Horak is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Houston who can fight to possibly get your criminal charges reduced or dismissed. You can have our lawyer review your case and answer all of your legal questions as soon as you call (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to take advantage of a free, confidential consultation.
Harris County DWI Checkpoints Information Center
- What is the three-prong balancing test courts use determine the constitutionality of checkpoints?
- Are "No Refusal Weekends" legal?
- Where can I learn more about DWI checkpoints in Houston?
Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979) was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court enunciated a three-prong balancing test summarizing the relevant factors to be considered when determining the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment requires all police seizures to be based on specific and objective facts that create a compelling public interest in the seizure that outweighs the individual’s expectation of privacy.
In regards to DWI cases, the balancing test established in Brown considers the following factors:
- The interest of the State in preventing accidents caused by drunk drivers;
- The effectiveness of DWI roadblocks in achieving such goal; and
- The level of intrusion on an individual's privacy caused by such roadblocks.
Even though state law prohibits roadblocks being set up to specifically seek out suspected drunk drivers, law enforcement agencies will still utilize checkpoints for other supposed purposes. In Lujan v. State, 331 S.W.3d 768 (Tex.Crim.App.2011), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of appeals that a checkpoint where drugs were discovered in the appellant's vehicle was illegal because it was not for the sole purpose of checking drivers' licenses and insurance. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded:
If the primary purpose of the checkpoint is lawful — a license check as opposed to general law enforcement — police can act on other information that arises at the stop. The checkpoint's primary purpose of license and insurance verification does not prohibit police from considering other unrelated offenses that they discover during the stop. Edmond, 531 U.S. at 48, 121 S.Ct. 447. In Edmond, the Supreme Court made clear that officers are not required to conduct the license and registration check wearing blinders and ignoring any other violations of the law that they observe. Officers can still act on what they learn during a checkpoint stop, even if that results in the arrest of the motorist for an offense unrelated to the purpose of the checkpoint. Id.
A brief suspicionless stop at a checkpoint is constitutionally permissible if its primary purpose is to confirm drivers' licenses and registration and not general crime control. Id. at 39, 121 S.Ct. 447. In denying the motion to suppress, the trial court implicitly found that the primary purpose of this checkpoint was a permissible license and insurance check. Ross, 32 S.W.3d at 855. This finding was supported by the record.
It is not uncommon for certain law enforcement agencies to advertise so-called "No Refusal Weekends" in which alleged offenders suspected of DWI during holiday weekends or major events will be unable to refuse chemical testing requests. If an alleged offender still declines to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test, police officers may be authorized to conduct forced blood draws.
In Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. ___ (2013), the United States Supreme Court ruled that “the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.” During many No Refusal Weekends, law enforcement agencies will often have judges on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the specific purpose of issuing the warrants necessary to authorize the blood draws.
People should understand that even though the name implies refusal not being an option, individuals still have the right to refuse chemical tests. Refusing to submit to testing does result in an automatic suspension of an alleged offender’s driver’s license, and failure to comply with legally authorized blood draws may result in additional criminal charges.
What are my rights at various "checkpoints"? | Flex Your Rights — Flex Your Rights is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit civil liberties organization. It creates and distributes what it refers to as “the most compelling, trustworthy, and practical know-your-rights media content in the universe.” Visit this section of its website to learn more about your rights at drunk driving checkpoints as well as drug, United States border, and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoints.
Bryan Scott Blade, Fourth Amendment--The Constitutionality of a Sobriety Checkpoint Program, 81 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 800 (1990-1991) — View the full text of a paper published in the Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology examining the constitutionality of a sobriety checkpoint program. The paper largely focuses on the United States Supreme Court decision in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz,___ U.S.___, 110 S.Ct. 2481, 110 L.Ed.2d 412 (1990) but also provides a history of Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures of individuals in automobiles. "No one can seriously dispute the magnitude of the drunken driving problem or the States' interest in eradicating it," Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority in its 6-3 decision in Sitz. "Conversely, the weight bearing on the other scale — the measure of the intrusion on motorists stopped briefly at sobriety checkpoints — is slight."
Horak Law | Houston DWI Checkpoints Defense Attorney
Were you arrested for allegedly drunk driving at a roadblock anywhere in Harris County? It will be critical for you to immediately contact Horak Law so you can achieve the most favorable outcome to your case that results in the fewest possible penalties.
Houston criminal defense lawyer Matt Horak represents individuals in communities throughout Liberty County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, Montgomery County, Waller County, Fort Bend County, and Harris County. Call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 today or complete an online contact form to have our attorney provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case during a free initial consultation.