The best-known Supreme Court ruling on a drunken driving measure came about when a motorist named Rick Sitz filed suit to stop the Michigan state police from using ''sobriety checkpoints." But in Michigan v. Sitz (1990) and again in Indianapolis v. Edmond a year later, the Supreme Court ruled that anti-alcohol roadblocks were justified, because preventing impaired motorists from causing accidents is part of a small category of public-safety ''special needs" exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable search and seizure.It's a pretty interesting piece, and if I knew anything about the Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Amendments, maybe I could have some really insightful things to say. (One law professor quoted in the piece, for instance, thinks that there's more of an automobile exception to, say, the Fourth Amendment than anything like a "DUI exception"—interesting, that.) But no. (Also noteworthy: The Justice Department cited those warrantless "sobriety checkpoints" as a precedent for the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.)
Once stopped, a motorist can then be compelled to provide evidence against himself. The government has been allowed to coerce the timely production of blood evidence in a DUI case-by warrant and by physical force-since Schmerber v. California (1966). But if the arresting officer doesn't want to wrestle a recalcitrant suspect to the ground, in most states the prosecutor can simply use the defendant's refusal to take the test as evidence at trial. In South Dakota v. Neville (2000), the court ruled that introducing the refusal as evidence does not violate the Fifth Amendment, because it is not oral testimony and thus not self-incriminating.
The accused, meanwhile, has only a limited right to examine the evidence against him. Though it's possible to preserve breathalyzer evidence, California v. Trombetta (1984) endorsed the routine police practice of disposing of it immediately. The defendant also has no Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, provided the criminal penalties do not exceed six months in jail, a standard retrieved from British common law in Blanton v. North Las Vegas (1989).