DC DUI Checkpoints

DUI checkpoints in DC are common in areas that have heavy bar and night club traffic and on days of the week that are considered when people are more likely to drive under the influence. A DUI checkpoint is different from a normal DUI stop. At most DUI stops, the police patrolling the city will stop a person in traffic and begin a DUI investigation if they feel that there is some suspicion that a driver may have been drinking or consumed any drugs recently.

In those situations, police officers would need to be able to establish that they had some reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or a traffic violation to be able to conduct the stop. A DUI checkpoint is different. In a DUI checkpoint, police officers establish a fixed point in which to conduct stops and conduct those investigations based on a predetermined sequence. That means that they have predetermined that they will investigate every third, fifth, or seventh driver going through the checkpoint.

If you have been stopped at a checkpoint and suspected of driving under the influence, it is important for you to contact a DUI lawyer in DC as soon as possible, so they can begin analyzing the facts of your case and developing a defense.

Priority for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement in DC has more reason to place significant attention on DUI cases because other kinds of violent crimes are drastically decreased in DC compared to the level of homicide and other kinds of violent crimes in DC in the 80s and 90s and even into the 2000s. That level of crime no longer exists in DC. Currently, the city has the lowest levels of crime in the past 40 or 50 years. As a result, law enforcement and the various police agencies in DC focus their attention elsewhere resulting in a higher focus on DUI cases.

Because there are fewer gun offenses, homicides, burglaries, and robberies in DC than in past years, the DC legislature informed police and prosecutors to pay closer attention to DUI offenses. Many people arrested in DC for driving under the influence are not DC residents. They are frequently out of state residents from Maryland or Virginia driving in to spend time in downtown DC or visiting bars or nightclubs in DC. They drink and then drive too fast to Maryland or Virginia and are pulled over.

The focus is on arresting people who are not DC residents. In fact, a disproportionate number of DUI arrests in DC are not DC residents and may be another reason why the DC legislature pays more attention to that kind of charge.

Checkpoint Regulations

Under constitutional rules, DUI checkpoints must be publicized and drivers must be notified in advance of the location and the exact duration of a DUI checkpoint. DUI checkpoints are not very common. DUI arrests are more frequently made as result of normal traffic stops in every part of the city.

There are locations around the city with a larger permanent police presence or a larger presence over the weekends. These are areas with high concentrations of bars or restaurants such as Morgan, 8th Street, B Street, or downtown DC. On the weekends in these areas, larger numbers of police officers look for traffic violations to pull someone over and do DUI investigations.


Police officers are allowed to conduct an investigation even if they do not have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing as long as they follow the predetermined conditions. When the driver approaches the checkpoint, the officer is permitted to ask the driver to put the window down and ask that driver if they have been drinking. The officer can also smell the driver for alcohol and if the officer believes that the person had been drinking, can then conduct a standard DUI investigation.

Every police officer has the ability to pull a person over for an alleged traffic violation in any part of the city. If the officer has a reason to suspect that the driver may be under the influence of alcohol, the officer can call for additional officers who can conduct additional field sobriety testing or further investigations for impaired driving.

To conduct this additional investigation, the officers do not necessarily need proof that a person is drunk. Evidence that a person consumed alcohol, drugs, or medication prior to driving their car could be enough to conduct a further investigation to determine whether an arrest can be made for driving under the influence.

Standard for an Arrest

The standard to make an arrest for driving under the influence is always probable cause and is a relatively low standard. It is not necessarily the same level of evidence that prosecutors need to prove someone guilty of driving under the influence at a trial. An arrest does not necessarily mean there is enough evidence to convict someone. The attorney must look at the case and discuss with the client what the evidence looks like and whether there is enough evidence to get a conviction. If not, the attorney considers the options to take the case to a trial to fight for an acquittal or to negotiate a favorable agreement that can minimize the person’s penalty and decrease the chances of having a permanent charge on their record.