When it announced last month it would begin stopping motorists at randomly placed roadblocks throughout the Rio Grande Valley, the Department of Public Safety cited roadway safety as the rationale for conducting its first regulatory checkpoints in two decades.
The tactic came as a surprise to many. State troopers hadn’t conducted such checkpoints since at least 1994, when a Texas court effectively prohibited most law enforcement roadblocks in the state.
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Legal history of checkpoints in Texas
1994: The Court of Criminal Appeals outlaws sobriety checkpoints, ruling they must first be established by a “statewide governing body.”
1995-2013: The Legislature rejects more than a dozen bills aimed at establishing sobriety checkpoints.
2008: The Department of Public Safety asks the Attorney General’s office if it has the authority to set up a driver license checkpoint. According to its request, the department considered drivers license checkpoints to be covered by the 1994 appeals court prohibition. DPS withdraws its request after pressure from border-area legislators concerned the checkpoints would target undocumented immigrants.
January 2011: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals confirms the legality of drivers license checkpoints, but puts strict limits on their use: “A brief suspicionless stop at a checkpoint is constitutionally permissable if its primary purpose is to confirm drivers’ licenses and registration and not general crime control.”
March 2011: A bill is filed that would give DPS authority to establish southbound checkpoints to inspect vehicles heading to Mexico for bulk cash and weapons. It fails.
September 2013: DPS sets up driver’s license checkpoints in the Rio Grande Valley.