History: Sobriety checkpoints in Ohio were initiated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) in July, 1989. Sobriety checkpoints are essentially roadblocks where law enforcement may randomly stop motor vehicles to determine if the driver is operating his or her motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution generally prohibits law enforcement from stopping motorists unless there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual has violated the law. However, in 1990, the United States Supreme Court held that the intrusion and inconvenience to those who are stopped is outweighed by the government’s interest in preventing drunk driving.
Effect: Whether sobriety check points are indeed an effective deterrent to drunk driving is debatable. The Supreme Court in upholding the constitutionality of the checkpoints cited the statistic that only 1.6% of all drivers stopped were charged with operating their vehicle while under the influence. It is further nearly impossible to determine whether individuals make a conscious decision not to drink and drive due to the possibility of a random checkpoint stop.
Guidelines: Sobriety checkpoints must be set up in an area with a history of alcohol related crashes and/or incidents of impaired driving. Drivers may only be randomly stopped, such as every third vehicle. About one week before a checkpoint is set up the police agency must provide public notice of the general date, time and location of the event. Several hours before the checkpoint commences the precise location and times of operation must be publicized. Typically this will occur over the radio or television. You may expect that sobriety checkpoints are likely to be set up during times when people tend to drink and travel. The summer holidays, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day are likely candidates. Also, Thanksgiving weekend, the December holiday season and, of course, New Years’ Eve are times to be aware that you may be randomly stopped.
What to do: Do not drink and drive! Get a designated driver. The financial cost of a drunk driving charge is great, the cost if someone is injured or killed can not be measured in dollars, only in grief and misery. Listen for the public announcements of the times and locations of the checkpoints, particularly around the dates stated above, and avoid those locations. You may not be charged if you avoid getting into line for a checkpoint, assuming you do not violate a traffic law such as an illegal U-turn. If you are stopped, and have been drinking, do not admit to drinking or using drugs, keep your license and proof of insurance in a location that is easily retrievable by you, and politely refuse to take any field sobriety tests (few pass them) or a portable breathalyzer, the results of which are inadmissible in court. Ask the officer to immediately allow you to contact an attorney skilled in drunk driving defense.
Jeff Milbauer, The Milbauer Law Firm (513) 320-6325