Skip to Content Top

Are Roadblocks Legal? Maybe.


Oftentimes, before holidays, we’ll hear or read in the news, and probably most often anymore, read through a social media site, about an upcoming roadblock. More recently, roadblocks have been referred to as “DUI checkpoints”.

A legal, or “constitutional,” roadblock must meet specific criteria. Therefore, not all roadblocks are legal. Throughout the years, the development of the law concerning roadblocks has gotten to a point where Tennessee Courts are required to look for specific factors to determine whether a roadblock is constitutional. Now, specific criteria must be evaluated when considering whether a roadblock is legal.

According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the three criteria that must be evaluated when considering whether a roadblock is legal, or constitutional, are as follows: 1) the importance of the public concern served by the roadblock; b) the extent the roadblock promotes the public interest; and c) the significance of the roadblock as it relates to our right to be free from unlawful stops or “seizures”.

So, what does all of this mean? With regard to the first factor, there must be a public concern that is served by the roadblock. In other words, random roadblocks that may just be set up on a whim, without a specific purpose or without regard to a specific public concern, may not be determined to be legal. Second, does the public have an interest in the roadblock and to what extent is the public’s interest promoted? For example, does the public have an interest in law enforcement preventing individuals from driving under the influence versus law enforcement setting up roadblocks to make sure every driver is complying with the restrictions of his or her driver’s license. And, lastly, what is the significance of the roadblock; or, how important is the roadblock when compared to an individual’s right to be free from an unlawful traffic stop?

“Cracking down” on driving under the influence is a significant objective of law enforcement. Now, there are law enforcement officers whose only responsibility is to patrol and look for drivers who may be under the influence. Therefore, “DUI checkpoints” have been deemed to be legal, or constitutional, when analyzing the checkpoints’ importance when considering the criteria above.

Evaluating the above criteria, and determining the legality of a roadblock, is not as simple as checking three boxes. If you, or someone you know, has been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, contact Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Attorneys and Murfreesboro DUI Attorneys at Santel | Garner.

Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Santel | Garner. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.

This blog is made available by Santel | Garner for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general overview of the law, not provide specific legal advice. By using this blog and website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Santel | Garner . This blog and website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.