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Are Fourth of July checkpoints legal?

No one in Albuquerque or Roswell wants to leave a Fourth of July celebration and get directed to a DUI checkpoint. 

But the truth is, New Mexico checkpoints are common on this summer holiday. The police know that people have the day off of work and are most likely with family and friends, eating, drinking, having a fire or watching fireworks. 

Is A DWI checkpoint constitutional?

Yes and no. A checkpoint has to meet certain standards in order to be constitutional. There are 8 standards that relate to checkpoints, but only two can be considered viable for someone to challenge a checkpoint's constitutionality (see the bullet points below). 

Reasonable cause

In order for an officer to pull you over he or she must have reasonable cause. Here is where our Fourth Amendment- illegal search and seizure- comes into play. Just as an officer cannot search your car without:

  1. Just cause (for example, seeing an open bottle or drugs in the open)
  2. A warrant 
  3. Your permission

An officer, and by extension the checkpoint, cannot invade your privacy or your reasonable expectation of privacy at a checkpoint. 

Legal precedent

Based on a precedent set by the 1987 case City of Las Cruces v. Betancourt, two very important things must be done by police in order for checkpoints to pass constitutional muster. 

  • The first is that police supervisory personnel have to know about and approve each checkpoint.
  • The second is that specific procedures need to be followed by police at the checkpoint. 

The importance of randomness

Other measures must be followed by New Mexico checkpoint officers.For example,  checkpoint officers cannot pick and choose drivers based on any type of preference. They also must treat every driver the same. Checkpoint times must be reasonable. The checkpoint must be safe for both the officers and the public and should not overly disrupt traffic flow. 

Advance notice and reason

Drivers must be given advance notice of an impending checkpoint, its general area, and the reason for the checkpoint (DWI and not immigration, for example) must be clear. 


Uniformed officers

All checkpoint officers must be in uniform with marked police/ patrol cars at the checkpoint. Officers cannot detain or hold you at a checkpoint for an unreasonable amount of time. 

Safety is in everyone's best interest. It's also important to understand your rights and know when law enforcement has crossed the line. 

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