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Why Washington Doesn't Allow Sobriety Checkpoints

Posted by Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney | Sep 15, 2015 | 0 Comments


It's nice, being ahead of the times.

It's a thought that we often have in Washington, known throughout America as one of the most progressive and forward-thinking states in the union. Luckily, it's also something that we can say, in the context of our laws regulating DUI, or driving under the influence.

We can say that we're ahead of the times because Washington is one of only a dozen states in the entire U.S. that has outlawed sobriety checkpoints. And we did it way back in 1988. Most other states allow law enforcement to set up road blocks and randomly pull over motorists, in order to find out if they're under the influence or not. We, in Washington, have determined that this is a violation of our basic civil right to privacy, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

But this blog post is not here to just brag about how progressive we are. It's important to reflect on why this is a good idea. Discussing why sobriety checkpoints are outlawed in Washington is useful, because it reminds us of the reasons why we made that determination, and makes us think about, and understand, why we took the path we did.

The big reason why we don't have sobriety checkpoints in Washington is because we value our privacy more than other states do. It's embedded in our state constitution, at Art. I, §7: “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” Most states in the U.S. have state constitutions that don't guarantee this right to privacy. Instead, they only say that people shall be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, just like the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Because our state constitution in Washington takes that extra step in defending your right to privacy, the Washington Supreme Court determined that Art. I, §7 of our state constitution requires that law enforcement get a warrant, or have a valid reason why getting a warrant is not feasible, in order to seize and search your car at a sobriety checkpoint. This was decided in the case City of Seattle v. Mesiani, back in 1988.

As a result of this decision by the Washington Supreme Court, sobriety checkpoints have been outlawed in our state. However, our state legislators often bring up the topic, or try to pass bills that would overturn the court's decision and bring back checkpoints. They do this every few years to try to get more votes from the people in our state who don't mind infringing on everyone else's privacy.

We need to keep reminding ourselves of why we have outlawed sobriety checkpoints in Washington. Understanding that it's all about our privacy is important, if we want to keep others from taking away this right that has been guaranteed to our state's citizens in our constitution.

About the Author

Kevin Trombold DUI Defense Attorney

Highly rated by former clients, who praise his warm, knowledgeable courtside manner and his fierce determination to reduce or eliminate charges. An accomplished speaker, author, and leader in DUI defense statewide Kevin is well respected by judges, prosecutors, and other attorneys across the State of Washington for his expertise, integrity, and knowledge in the complicated forensic science area of impaired driving allegations.


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