The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. The United States Supreme Court, in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, found that suspicion-less roadside Operating Under the Influence (OUI) checkpoints are reasonable, and therefore legal. The Court reasoned that the brief initial investigation in a roadblock sobriety checkpoint is reasonable, because it is a minimal intrusion into the privacy of the motorist, and the public’s interest in preventing drunk driving is very high.

It’s important to know, however, that the Maine Supreme Court has found that it is unreasonable, and therefore in violation of the law, for a law enforcement officer to pull a car over simply for turning around once they see a road block and driving back in the direction they came.  State v. Powell, 591 A.2d 1306 (1991).  An officer may none-the-less attempt to pull someone over for this, in which case the driver must pull over immediately. Whether you are sober or impaired, OUI checkpoints in Maine can be anxiety producing. If you do not want to be stopped in an OUI checkpoint, turn your vehicle around (in a lawful manner), and proceed in the direction you were coming from.  You should not be pulled over for doing this, but if you are, contact an attorney as soon as practical.

Once a vehicle is stopped in the line of traffic at an OUI checkpoint, the officer’s interaction should be brief (1 or 2 minutes).  The officer does not automatically have the right to ask the motorist to pull over to the side of the road to conduct further questioning or tests (i.e. Field Sobriety Tests).  In fact, in order to detain the motorist for additional questioning the officer must have an objectively reasonable articulable suspicion that the motorist is operating his or her vehicle under the influence.

By way of example, Maine law allows a police officer to detain a suspected impaired driver for an extended period of time after the initial checkpoint simply because the vehicle was estimated to be speeding while approaching the roadblock, the driver admitted to one drink many hours earlier, and it was late at night.  State v. McPartland, 2012 ME 12, 36 A.3d 881.

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Commonly, people believe they can only be arrested for OUI if they submit to a Breathalyzer and the test is above 0.08. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In Maine, a driver may be arrested for OUI if their mental or physical faculties or senses are impaired to the slightest degree or to any extent.

If you’ve been charged with OUI or a different criminal driving offense as a result of a Maine sobriety checkpoint, you may have legal grounds to challenge the charges. OUI checkpoints present many opportunities for an experienced attorney to build a strong defense. Contact Attorney Eric S. Thistle at the law offices of Irwin & Morris.

Attorney Thistle can be reached by email at or by telephone (207) 274-3811.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide general information about Maine law. The publication of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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