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Roadside Checkpoints: Legal tool or illegal?

Posted at 5:42 AM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 17:45:33-04

They can stop drunk drivers, but some say roadside safety checkpoints violate your rights.

It's a debate that varies state to state -- in Wisconsin they're illegal. Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan, too. But Indiana and Illinois allow checkpoints, as the map below shows:

The I-Team went to Illinois to see how they set up their checkpoints. Illinois State Police legally relies on a June 1990 Supreme Court Decision ruling sobriety checkpoints constitutional.

In doing so, there are a few key points:

  • Cars get chosen randomly- ISP uses a pre-determined number of cars they'll pull over. Officers can't change that number without a supervisor.
  • It chooses locations based on drunk driving data.
  • ISP announces checkpoints in advance, "so that people do notice that we're having it and they will make better decisions," explained Master Sgt. Amy Pelletier.

Milwaukee State Sen. Tim Carpenter would like checkpoints in Wisconsin, but hasn't had success in getting them passed. He's looking at giving communities a choice to implement checkpoints.

"What I've found out is once they're passed and people see what they're like, the amount of opposition really goes down," Carpenter said.

He feels it's a safety tool.

stop sign placed in front of state patrol cars at night

But Julius Kim, a Wisconsin defense attorney, said safety may not be worth what people experience.

"Thousands of people every evening are inconvenienced, it's intrusive, and the net gain from an OWI checkpoint is not there that there's not that many people who have been found to be impaired through those OWI checkpoints," he told the I-Team.

ISP share their numbers from the checkpoint the I-Team visited, and for the last year.

  • On March 22, ISP District 2 made no DUI arrests, but wrote two alcohol-related citations, three drug-related citations and six warnings.
  • In all of 2018 the same district made 10 DUI arrests and gave out almost 60 citations, averaging one DUI per safety check.
  • The whole ISP wrote 1,164 DUIs, drug or alcohol related citations.