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DWI Checkpoints

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.

Houston DWI Checkpoint Defense Attorney

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 to take advantage of a confidential consultation.

Harris County DWI Checkpoints Information Center

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What is a DWI in Texas?

DWI stands for driving while intoxicated and is considered a serious offense in Texas. An individual can be charged with DWI if they operate a vehicle under the influence of substances other than alcohol. These substances can be both legal such as a prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs and illegal substances such as cocaine or heroin.

According to Texas Penal Code Sec. 49.04, vehicle operators can also be subject DWI charges if their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) goes above the federal and state limit of 0.08. The Texas Penal Code also establishes the definition of intoxication as not having a normal level of physical or mental faculties due to the consumption of a controlled substance. Depending on the circumstances of the case, DWI penalties can range from steep fines to jail or prison time.

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What is a DWI Checkpoint?

Law enforcement officers utilize DWI checkpoints to detect and ultimately arrest any impaired driver in the name of traffic safety. Sobriety checkpoints, also known as roadblocks, allow police to evaluate vehicle operators for signs of alcohol impairment on the roadway. Drivers will likely notice these roadblocks along roads and highways.

DWI checkpoints also allow law enforcement officers to require a breath test from anyone they suspect has been driving while intoxicated. When an officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, it means they have a reasonable suspicion based on several factors. These factors can include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, the smell of alcohol, and the inability to stand or walk.

The primary goal of sobriety checkpoints is not to arrest individuals, but rather to discourage them from driving under the influence.

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DWI Checkpoints in Texas

DWI roadblocks and checkpoints have been challenged for violations of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The specific amendment prohibits illegal search and seizures. It also challenges the idea that DWI checkpoints should operate legally. Due to this debate, there are 12 states in the United States that outlaw DUI checkpoints and roadblocks. Texas is one of those states.

In a case from 1991 titled Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that DWI sobriety checkpoints violated an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. During this case, law enforcement officers conducted DWI checkpoints in Michigan and one person was arrested for driving under the influence. Respondents then asked the Circuit Court of Wayne County to relieve them from DWI checkpoints. In the end, the Supreme Court stated the roadblock was constitutional because it passed the three-prong test utilized in Brown v. Texas.

Since then, law enforcement officers have argued that this case makes DWI checkpoints constitutional. Nonetheless, the subject remains a controversial topic among many lawmakers in the United States. Up to this day, no guidelines have been set by Texas courts. If you believe your DWI arrest was due to an illegal checkpoint, contact our criminal defense attorneys at Horak Law.

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Constitutionality Test for DWI Checkpoints in Texas

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.

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Harris County No Refusal Weekends

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.

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Texas Resources for DWI Checkpoints

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.”

Sobriety Checkpoint Laws – Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission to “provide leadership and advocacy for the states and territories to improve traffic safety.” Visit the GHSA website to view state laws concerning a variety of issues. Topics include alcohol impaired driving, child passenger safety, distracted driving and more.

MADD: Underage Drinking – The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking. Visit the website to view drunk driving statistics by state and read more information about how you can get involved.

Responsibility.Org: Sobriety Checkpoints – Visit the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility to learn more about sobriety checkpoints. Click on the link to view the details of each state’s impaired driving and underage drinking laws. The website also lists information on how to prevent underage drinking and end drunk driving.

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Houston Attorney for DWI Checkpoints

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 today or complete an online contact form to have our attorney provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case during a initial consultation.

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  • Texas Board of Legal Specialization | Criminal Law
  • National College for DUI Defense
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Laywers
  • Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association
  • Matt Horak has earned recognition for community leadership by Lawyer Legion