Vehicle Checkpoints

A driver may be stopped at a vehicle checkpoint where the checkpoints are operated according to specific procedure.

Example: In states where sobriety checkpoints are permitted, the checkpoint is legal where the public has advance notice and the police department has documentation showing why a certain location was picked.

Sidebar: A valid checkpoint equates to a routine traffic stop and the rules concerning plain view, "stop and frisk" and the automobile exception apply.

At a sobriety checkpoint I was stopped and asked for my license, registration and proof of insurance although I had violated no laws. Is this illegal?

No. You have not been subjected to an illegal search or seizure because the checkpoint allows officers to stop you without justification.

Sidebar: Checkpoints are permitted where the driver is warned of an upcoming checkpoint and has the option to avoid it. If you choose to go through the checkpoint, you can be stopped.

Can my car be searched at a checkpoint?

Yes, if the reasons that allow a search under the automobile exception are present. For example, if you are stopped and the officer smells marijuana, she can search the car because she has a reasonable belief that drugs are in the vehicle.

TIP: Drug dogs are often stationed at checkpoints. A drug dog sniff is not an illegal search, and you cannot argue that you are being unreasonably detained at a checkpoint while the dog sniffs the car, as you chose not to avoid it.

Can I be arrested at a checkpoint although I was stopped for no reason?

Yes. The purpose of a checkpoint is to permit police officers to stop drivers who have not necessarily committed a traffic violation or other offense. Although your arrest would be illegal if you were stopped without justification any other time, it is not illegal in a checkpoint situation.