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Drunk Driving Sobriety Checkpoints

As the Supreme Court becomes increasingly conservative in its efforts to achieve public order at the expense of individual rights, many lawyers and state courts are turning for the first time to their own state constitutions to protect their citizens.

After holding that DUI checkpoints were constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz to the Michigan Court of Appeals for proceedings not inconsistent with its opinion. Thus that state court was confronted with the same task that faced the South Dakota court in South Dakota v. Neville when the Supreme Court reversed its finding that evidence of refusal violated the Fifth Amendment (see §11.4.1). And the results were similar: On remand, both state courts sidestepped the federal ruling and upheld their previous results by looking instead to their state constitutions. Sitz v. Department of State Police, 485 N.W.2d 135 (Mich. App. 1992).

The Michigan appellate court began by noting that the state constitution generally offered the same protections as the federal Constitution. However, when the U.S. Supreme Court suddenly adopted a standard permitting suspicionless stops by roving roadblocks, it altered the course of federal rights and created an ''enormous departure'' from earlier Michigan decisions. ''This is especially true where, as here, the effectiveness of the roadblocks in question in preventing drunk driving is negligible, only one arrest after 126 stops.''  485 N.W.2d at 139. The appellate court decided that any such ''radical'' new standard should be adopted, if at all, only by the Michigan Supreme Court.