Michigan Dept. of State Police vs. Sitz Case Brief: Sobriety Checkpoints and the 4th Amendment
The Police force in the state of Michigan adopted the practice of conducting random sobriety checkpoints in an effort to catch drunk drivers and encourage sober driving. During this operation, all drivers passing through would be stopped and questioned. If an officer suspected the driver could be intoxicated, they were sent to participate in a field sobriety test.
Does the Fourth Amendment allow police officers to stop unsuspecting and innocent drivers in the search for intoxicated individuals? Can sobriety checkpoints and the 4th Amendment co-exist?
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On June 14, 1990, the Supreme Court held that Michigan had a “substantial government interest” to advance in stopping drunk driving, and that this technique was rationally related to achieving that goal, and the element of surprise is crucial to the method’s success. In addition, the court ruled that the impact to drivers, such as being later to their destination, was negligible.
The court ruled that having a short conversations with drivers to determine if they are intoxicated is a reasonable search method, and that other, more obtrusive or invasive search methods would be treated differently.
What Does Michigan Dept. of State Police vs. Sitz Mean for You?
This means that you may be forced to stop at a sobriety checkpoint at some time, and will be required to cooperate with police regardless of whether or not you’ve been drinking. Ultimately, despite the federal decision, Michigan is one of 12 states that have effectively banned sobriety checkpoints. States that prohibit checkpoints based on interpretation of state Constitution or statutes include: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana (permitting only safety spotchecks), Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Alaska does not conduct sobriety checkpoints because of a lack of authority, and Texas has banned them because of their own unique, quintessentially Texan interpretation of the federal Constitution (because Texas).
For a complete list of states and their individual sobriety checkpoint laws, visit http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/checkpoint_laws.html.
Hopefully, you will never drink and drive, and hopefully, you can be patient with these checkpoints if they are carried out in your state. We’re sure you‘d like to get drunk drivers off the road just as much as the police would. Always make sure you have a safe ride, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.