Q&A: Why Doesn’t Minnesota Have DWI/Sobriety Checkpoints?

Many people have asked, “Does Minnesota have DUI checkpoints?” The answer is no. In fact, Minnesota is among 10 states that do not permit DWI/sobriety checkpoints. In other states where permissible, sometimes law enforcement will utilize such checkpoints to question and vet every driver on particular roadways – examining vehicle occupants for probable cause.

Without a doubt, this tactic utilized with the goal of cutting down on DWI is considered highly controversial. Those arguing in opposition cite the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Courts Weigh In

In 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in – upholding the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints nationwide by a 6-to-3 vote in the case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz. In part, the decision determined by the court appeared emphasize the importance of public safety over other concerns.

That did not, however, make the tactic legal in every state. 4 years later in Minnesota, the state Supreme Court took the opposite view, determining that such checkpoints do in fact violate unreasonable search and seizure protections as found in the Minnesota state constitution.

The part of the state constitution that deems DWI checkpoints to be illegal reads as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized.”

In writing an opinion for the state court’s majority, Justice Mary Jeanne Coyne concluded that the traveling public must be protected from “even the minimally intrusive seizures” that can occur during checkpoints.

Groups including MADD have called for DWI checkpoints to be legalized in Minnesota. Changing the law, however, would require amending the state’s constitution. In the years ahead, the debate surrounding the issue will surely continue.