Are sobriety checkpoints legal in Pennsylvania?

The average layperson doesn’t know very much about state laws, and what they do know likely comes from both media and social acquaintances. In other words, what people may think they know could, in fact, be wildly inaccurate. Confusion about what is legal and what is not can lead people to make choices that put them in danger of facing criminal charges.

For example, following a Pennsylvania state supreme court ruling on May 31 of this year striking down the validity of certain kinds of sobriety checkpoints, many people began to mistakenly believe that all sobriety checkpoints or police roadblocks are illegal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only did the Supreme Court ruling only apply to specific kinds of sobriety checkpoints, but the state legislature took quick action to close those legal loopholes by passing a new law. That means that with the holidays rapidly approaching, police all over the state of Pennsylvania will be able to legally conduct sobriety checkpoints.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously ruled against inter-jurisdictional checkpoints

The State Supreme Court ruling that confused people regarding the legality of sobriety checkpoints in Pennsylvania was very specific in scope. The court found that sobriety checkpoints involving multiple jurisdictions or different police departments might violate the rights of the individuals pulled over.

Those jurisdictions that choose to work together would need to have a law on the books permitting such action as well as formal agreements between the departments sharing staffing resources. The first week in July saw the governor of Pennsylvania signing House Bill 1614 into law. The bill specifically allows police officers to cooperate with one another and work at sobriety checkpoints in other jurisdictions.

The only limitation on their ability to do so is whether they obtain the approval of the chief from the department where they work. Since most departments are enthusiastic about reducing drunk driving accidents, it is likely that inter-jurisdictional cooperation will continue for sobriety checkpoints in the near future, including the 2019 holiday season.

Holidays are dangerous because of the risk of drunk driving

The bill was initially signed in time for Fourth of July sobriety enforcement efforts. Lawmakers acted quickly because historically the Fourth of July is one of the most dangerous days for people on the road because of impaired drivers. People celebrating could overindulge and then drive home, anyway.

Independence Day is not the only holiday when police monitor the roads for impaired drivers. People get drunk and then drive on other holidays, including the days around Halloween, over Thanksgiving weekend and during the Christmas and New Year’s season. Anyone who winds up arrested for allegedly driving drunk as a result of sobriety checkpoint needs to familiarize themselves with their rights in order to protect themselves.