Reasonable suspicion that a driver is intoxicated may be established when an officer witnesses behavior that leads him or her to believe that a motorist was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to Minnesota laws, police officers must have reasonable suspicion that a driver has broken the law to pull a driver over and search the driver’s vehicle or personal property.
Are Minnesota Sobriety Checkpoints Legal?
Sobriety checkpoints are illegal in Minnesota. They were ruled unconstitutional by the Minnesota State Supreme Court in 1994. Minnesota drivers can be still be stopped for suspicion of DWI, but only with reasonable cause. When a driver is stopped, he/she may be asked to submit to a field sobriety breathalyzer test or provide a blood sample. Under Minnesota’s implied consent law, refusal to submit to chemical testing can result in the revocation of a person’s driver’s license.
When a driver is stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, the blocked roadway requires every car on the road to stop. A DWI attorney often sees multiple drivers who are detained without any probable cause of wrongdoing. They are simply on the blocked roadway where the checkpoint is set up. If police delay drivers for an inordinate amount of time or search vehicles without reasonable suspicion of impairment, it’s likely the court would rule that the stop was not legal. The legality of searches and seizures at sobriety checkpoints depend on individual circumstances.
Supporters of sobriety checkpoints and states that enforce them argue that they discourage drunk driving offenses. Studies show that sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by about 10 percent. Opponents of sobriety checkpoints cite Fourth Amendment rights that protect people from unconstitutional searches and seizures.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows searches and seizures only if they are considered “reasonable.” When police officers pull a driver over for suspicion of drunk driving, there must be a valid reason before a search and seizure can occur. Common reasons drivers are pulled over include:
- Driving in the wrong lane
- Making an illegal turn
- Swerving or weaving between lanes
- Sudden or frequent braking
- Tailgating another vehicle
- Driving at night without headlights
If a driver is charged with DWI, the legality of the initial traffic stop may come into question. The legality of the stop can mean the difference between steep fines and jail time and having the charges reduced or dropped completely.