Are DWI Checkpoints Legal in Texas?

The police employ many different tactics to make DWI arrests and cases. One common tactic used across the country is when police officers set up DWI checkpoints and stop every car that comes to the checkpoint to see whether the driver has been drinking. The police will look to different commonly taught signs of drinking such as:

  • Odor or alcohol
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Other signs like open alcohol containers

These are just some of the tactics police will use at a DWI checkpoint to make DWI arrests.

Texas has its own laws regarding DWI Checkpoints. Prior to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1990, most states routinely performed DWI checkpoints without any fear that it violated the U.S. Constitution, but that has changed.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on DWI Checkpoints

The seminal case laying out the constitutionality of DWI checkpoints by the Supreme Court was Michigan v. Sitz, 496 US 444 (1990). That case involved a man who was pulled over during a routine DWI checkpoint in Michigan. He argued that the police had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause that he had committed a crime, and therefore could not be stopped.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the man in this case. They held that as long as the state had a system in place that is reasonably related to ensuring that all drivers in an area are sober, such a system did not violate the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Needless to say, this ruling was a boon to police departments across the country, and Texas authorities assumed their DWI checkpoints would continue to be legal.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules on DWI Checkpoints

Soon after the Supreme Court made its ruling, the use of DWI checkpoints was challenged in the courts of Texas. The loadstar case on this issue in Texas was decided in 1991, in State v. Wagner, 821 SW 2d. 288 (Tex. Ct. App. 1991). In that case, a man was arrested and convicted of DWI after being stopped at a DWI checkpoint in the Dallas area. The evidence used against him was the evidence gathered at the DWI checkpoint.

The man challenged the legality of the checkpoint based on the fact that the Texas legislature did not have a system in place, or regulatory scheme, that authorized Texas law enforcement to use DWI checkpoints. Despite the fact that the Dallas police department had its own scheme and system for DWI checkpoints, the state itself had not developed one, and because of that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that DWI checkpoints are illegal.

This ruling is important for several reasons. For one, the when the police pull you over they have to have a good reason. For example, they have to have some reasonably suspicion that you broke a law or are violating traffic ordinances. They cannot just pull people over in the hope of arresting drunk drivers. So, if you have been charged with a DWI in the Dallas area, you may have been arrested illegally and have a case against the police who arrested you.

At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm, we will defend your DWI charges with every law available. That includes investigating whether the police were employing an illegal DWI checkpoint when they arrested you. If you have been charged with DWI in the Dallas area, contact us. We will review your case and provide you with your legal options.