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DUI checkpoints: Are they legal?

Drunk driving laws are rigorously enforced in North Dakota and nationwide. They prevent intoxicated drivers from hurting themselves and others in a crash. However, enforcement efforts can be inconsistent and unfair. Further, there continues to be debate over whether certain laws are effective.

This is one argument that prevented a bill aimed at changing North Dakota’s drunk driving laws from getting enough votes in the state Senate this March.

DUI checkpoints remain

House Bill 1442 proposed outlawing sobriety checkpoints used to catch drunk drivers in North Dakota. The bill required police have “reasonable suspicion” to pull over a driver. The bill passed easily in the House but the state’s Senate shot down the measure.

Proponents of the bill cited checkpoints’ ineffectiveness. Police conducted 62 sobriety checkpoints in Fargo between 2004 and 2014. Out of the 10,732 people stopped at those checkpoints, less than 1 percent resulted in drunk driving charges. In effect, drivers sacrificed their privacy for meager results.

However, state law enforcement leaders opposed the bill, arguing that checkpoints are a useful tool helping to keep the roads safe.

As such, sobriety checkpoints continue to be lawful in North Dakota.

It is worth noting here that even though checkpoints remain lawful in this state, they must comply with state and federal guidelines. If they do not, they could infringe on a motorist’s rights and result in unfair criminal charges.

Further, drivers should know that checkpoint laws vary by state, which can create confusion among drivers who may not understand their rights and responsibilities if police stop them in another state. Sobriety checkpoints are legally allowed in 37 states and in the District of Columbia. Neighboring Montana and Minnesota do not allow them, but South Dakota regularly conducts checkpoints.

Nation’s most DUIs

A recent study found that North Dakota has the highest percentage of drivers reporting a history of DUIs, with 5.73 percent of adults in the state having gotten a DUI in the past seven years. Montana ranked fifth, with 3.61 percent of drivers reporting a DUI.

The fact that so many drivers are pulled over and charged with a DUI in these states should serve as a reminder that drunk driving is an issue that law enforcement agencies take very seriously. As such, any person accused of this offense would be prudent to also take such an allegation seriously.

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