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Are holiday sobriety checkpoints legal in Virginia?

The winter holidays are here, and that means office holiday parties, family celebrations and other festivities. It also means there will be many opportunities to share a drink with friends and loved ones. Most people in Virginia are responsible with alcohol and won't drive drunk. However, that doesn't mean police in the Commonwealth won't go to extra lengths this time of year to apprehend those they believe are driving under the influence.

One way that police attempt to identify drunk drivers is via sobriety checkpoints. These are roadblocks set up along intersections, wherein police will randomly detain motorists at regular intervals to determine whether the motorist is under the influence of alcohol. However, do sobriety checkpoints violate a motorist's rights against unreasonable searches and seizure?

Under federal law, sobriety checkpoints are legal. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue and determined that any intrusion into a motorist's privacy rights were outweighed by public safety concerns, and that states had a compelling interest in stopping motorists from driving under the influence. Thus, such stops are reasonable under the circumstances.

But, although federal law permits sobriety checkpoints, states are still able to prohibit them on grounds that they violate state law or that the state does not have the authority to run a sobriety checkpoint. However, Virginia is not one of these states. Sobriety checkpoints are legal under the Virginia Constitution and can be conducted weekly.

So, as you head home from your holiday celebrations, it is important to understand your rights. If you are charged with DUI, it may be worthwhile to examine the surrounding circumstances. In some cases, one might be able to argue that a traffic stop -- even one at a sobriety checkpoint -- is unlawful. However, these types of arguments are very fact-specific. Therefore, those facing DUI charges who want to call into question the legality of the traffic stop will want to seek the legal guidance they need to develop a solid defense strategy.

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CraigWilliams, PLC

CraigWilliams, PLC
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