Las Vegas police routinely set up DUI checkpoints to check whether drivers are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police detain every driver, ask questions, and may order them to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs). Drivers who the officers suspect are drunk or high get arrested for DUI.
Law enforcement typically set up DUI checkpoints during holiday weekends on high-traffic roadways. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) often gives advanced notice of when these checkpoints will be.
Upcoming DUI checkpoints
Nevada's most recent sobriety checkpoints include:
Saturday, May 13, 2017
E Tropicana Ave and Paradise Rd, Las Vegas
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Frank Sinatra Dr and Reno Ave, Las Vegas
Friday, March 24, 2017
Titanium Ave and Harrison Dr., Lovelock
Friday, March 17, 2017
E Tropicana Ave and Paradise Rd, Las Vegas
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Blue Diamond Rd and S Decatur Blvd, Las Vegas
Driving through a sobriety checkpoint without stopping is a gross misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is:
- 364 days in jail, and/or
- $2,000 in fines
- 1 - 6 years in Nevada State Prison, and/or
- up to $5,000 in fines4
It may be possible to get checkpoint violation charges reduced or dismissed by arguing these defenses:
- The driver followed the police's directions,
- The checkpoint was not legal, and/or
- The police committed misconduct
In this article our Las Vegas drunk driving defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. Definition of DUI roadblocks
- 2. What happens at sobriety checkpoints
- 3. The legality of DUI checkpoints
- 4. Advanced notice of checkpoints
- 5. Penalties for driving through a roadblock without stopping
- 6. Challenging a checkpoint arrest in court
- 7. Record seals
DUI checkpoints are cordoned-off areas of road where police stop every driver to check whether they are under the influence. All drivers going through the checkpoints get stopped, not only those exhibiting signs of intoxication. Then police arrest the motorists they believe are driving drunk or driving under the influence of drugs.1
The LVMPD typically sets up DUI checkpoints in high-traffic areas during holiday weekends or special events when heavy drinking goes on.2 Examples include:
- New Year's Eve
- Super Bowl Weekend
- St. Patrick's Day
- Fourth of July
The purpose of DUI checkpoints is to deter intoxicated driving. These checkpoints also go by the names:
- sobriety checkpoints,
- drunk driving sobriety checkpoints,
- DUI roadblocks, and
- DUI administrative roadblocks
Sometimes, police at roadblocks do not stop every car but every fourth car, or every license plate that starts with an even number, etc. Any pre-determined formula for detaining drivers is allowed as long as it is not in any way discrimatory.
When a person is driving into a sobriety checkpoint, the officers will stop the driver and ask some questions like, "Have you been drinking?" If it is nighttime, officers usually shine a flashlight into the vehicle to see if the driver is transporting alcohol in violation of Nevada's open container laws (NRS 484B.150).
If the driver seems sober, the officers will allow the driver to continue through the checkpoint. But if the officers reasonably suspect that the driver is exhibiting intoxicated behavior, the driver will be directed to a nearby area for tests. Examples of impaired behavior includes:
- bad driving,
- an odor of alcohol on the driver's breath,
- open or empty alcohol containers,
- bloodshot or glassy eyes, or
- slurred speech patterns
The police may ask the driver to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) and perform FSTs, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus, one-legged stand and walk and turn. Depending on the results, the driver may be arrested for driving under the influence.
Yes, if they are administered properly. In order for a roadblock to be valid, law enforcement must follow the following four rules:
- The checkpoint must be clearly visible to approaching traffic from 100 yards away;
- A "Stop" sign must be placed near the centerline of the highway that is readable from 50 yards away;
- A flashing red light at the side of the highway must be clearly visible to oncoming traffic 100 yards away; and
- There must be warning signs at the side of the highway at least a quarter mile from the roadblock to notify oncoming traffic about it. Additionally, these signs must be accompanied by a burning beam light, flare or lantern to attract attention.3
If police fail to follow these protocols, the defendant's charges for driving through a roadblock may be reduced or dismissed.
3.1. Checkpoints are not legal in every state
Currently, the following states prohibit sobriety checkpoints: Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Oregon, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, and Wisconsin. Montana permits only "safety spot" checks. And Alaska does not conduct roadblocks because there is no state law authorizing it.4
No. Police can set up roadblocks without publicizing it first. The checkpoint signs that are readable from 100 yards away are supposed to serve as a suffiicent warning.5
However, law enforcement often does disclose DUI checkpoints a few days in advance. The LVMPD posts press releases about checkpoints here.
Yes. Once a driver arrives at a checkpoint, the driver must stop, answer the cops' questions, and comply with their requests. The driver may leave only when the police give the okay.
Traveling through a Nevada administrative DUI roadblock without stopping is a gross misdemeanor carrying penalties of:
- up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- up to $2,000 in fines
But if illegally driving through the roadblock results in death, substantial bodily harm or damage to property in excess of $1,000, the driver faces category B felony charges. The punishment includes:
- one to six (1 - 6) years in prison, and/or
- up to $5,000 in fines6
Depending on the case, the defendant may face drunk or drugged driving charges as well. See our article about Nevada DUI penalties.
5.1. Can I turn around if I see a checkpoint in the distance?
Yes. If a driver sees warning signs of an upcoming DUI checkpoint in Nevada, the driver is allowed to take any legal detour prior to that checkpoint to avoid going through it. But the driver may not make an illegal U-turn or an improper turn in order to escape a roadblock.7
Three common defenses to fight DUI checkpoint charges include:
- The driver followed the officer's directions,
- The checkpoint was not legal, and/or
- The police committed misconduct.
6.1. The driver followed the officer's directions
Anyone who has been through a roadblock knows they are chaotic. There are hundreds of cars moving at a slow pace while a dozen or so officers scramble to check every driver.
With so many cars, the police may have trouble keeping straight which drivers have been given the green light to leave, and sometimes there is miscommunication between the officers. Drivers may find themselves arrested for disobeying an officer or driving through a checkpoint when in fact they did nothing wrong.
As long as the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated the law, the charge should be dropped.
6.2. The checkpoint was not legal
Checkpoints are valid only if they have the proper signage and signals visible from the proper distances (see question 3 for more information).
If the defense attorney can demonstrate that the police fell short while administering a sobriety checkpoint, the case should be dismissed. A defense attorney would rely on photographs, surveillance video, and eyewitness testimony in an effort to show the roadblock violated Nevada law.
6.3. The police engaged in misconduct
Once a driver stops at a DUI checkpoint, police have to follow the same rules they do during normal traffic stops. This includes asking questions, if necessary performing a preliminary breath test, and possibly administering field sobriety tests.
If the police cut corners and then arrest a person for violating NRS 484B.580, a defense attorney may be able to persuade the D.A. to drop the charges. Video footage from dash cams, body cams, or smartphones often serves as helpful evidence of police mistakes.
Currently, it is not a defense to argue that DUI checkpoints are unconstitutional. Police stopping drivers with no probable cause seems like an unlawful search and seizure. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that correctly administered roadblocks are consistent with the Fourth Amendment.8
It depends on whether the case was prosecuted as a gross misdemeanor or felony, and whether the defendant was convicted or not:
|Disobeying a Nevada DUI checkpoint||Record Seal wait time|
Class B felony conviction
5 years after the case ends
Gross Misdemeanor conviction
2 years after the case ends
Note that a misdemeanor DUI conviction has a seven (7) year waiting period, whether or not a checkpoint was involved. And felony DUIs may never be sealed.9
Call us if you have been charged . . . .
Whether or not your DUI arrest occurred at a Nevada checkpoint, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys can help. In many cases, we can get DUI charges reduced or dismissed due to police misconduct and other technicalities. Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation today.
Arrested in California? Refer to our informational article on California sobriety checkpoints.
NRS 484B.570 Administrative roadblock: Establishment; minimum requirements.
1. The police officers in this State may establish, in their respective jurisdictions, administrative roadblocks upon the highways of this State for any lawful purpose other than identifying the occupants of a vehicle or because of the existence of an emergency.
2. To warn and protect the traveling public, administrative roadblocks established by police officers must meet the following requirements:
(a) The administrative roadblock must be established at a point on the highway clearly visible to approaching traffic at a distance of not less than 100 yards in either direction.
(b) At the entrance to the administrative roadblock:
(1) A sign must be placed near the centerline of the highway displaying the word “Stop” in letters of sufficient size and luminosity to be readable at a distance of not less than 50 yards in the direction affected by the administrative roadblock, either in daytime or darkness.
(2) At least one red flashing or intermittent light, on and burning, must be placed at the side of the highway, clearly visible to the oncoming traffic at a distance of not less than 100 yards.
(c) Warning signs must be placed at the side of the highway, containing any wording of sufficient size and luminosity to warn the oncoming traffic that a “police stop” lies ahead, and a burning beam light, flare or lantern must be placed near the signs to attract the attention of the traffic to the signs. The signs must be placed at a distance of not less than:
(1) One-quarter of a mile from the entrance to the administrative roadblock if the portion of the highway containing the administrative roadblock is in a rural area.
(2) Seven hundred feet from the entrance to the administrative roadblock if the portion of the highway containing the administrative roadblock is in an urban area.
- See, e.g., Lawren Linehan, Metro announces DUI checkpoints for Super Bowl weekend, Las Vegas Review-Journal (February 2, 2016).
- NRS 484B.570.
- Motor Vehicle Safety Intervention Fact Sheets, CDC.
- See, e.g., Police will stop announcing DUI checkpoint locations, Los Angeles Times (June 15, 2011); People v. Banks, 6 Cal.4th 926 (1993)("[W]e conclude that the operation of a sobriety checkpoint conducted in the absence of advance publicity, but otherwise in conformance with the guidelines we established in Ingersoll v. Palmer...does not result in an unreasonable seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.").
NRS 484B.580 Failure to stop at a roadblock; penalties.
1. It is unlawful for a person to:
(a) Proceed or travel through an administrative roadblock or a temporary roadblock without subjecting himself or herself to the traffic control established at the roadblock.
(b) Disobey the lawful orders or directions of a police officer at an administrative roadblock or a temporary roadblock.
2. A person who unlawfully proceeds through an administrative roadblock or a temporary roadblock shall be punished:
(a) If the person is the direct cause of a death or substantial bodily harm to any person, or damage to property in excess of $1,000, for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
(b) If no death, substantial bodily harm or damage to property in excess of $1,000 occurs, for a gross misdemeanor.
- See id.
- Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990) ([T]he balance of the State's interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.).
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.