Thousands of drunk drivers are arrested every year as a result of being stopped at a DUI checkpoint. However, that arrest doesn’t necessarily mean that a conviction is inevitable. It may be possible for an experienced criminal defense attorney to demonstrate that a DUI checkpoint arrest was illegal.
If you or someone you know has been arrested at a DUI checkpoint, then you need to know more about what checkpoints are and what your rights are. Getting a defense attorney’s advice in these circumstances is indispensable. Still, knowing some facts may help you to understand your situation.
DUI checkpoints, which also may be called sobriety checkpoints, are highly regulated safety measures that are used by various law enforcement agencies. They are an extremely controversial tactic that cannot be legally used in 12 states. For people living in the other 38 states, DUI checkpoints may prove to be an enormous legal headache.
In order for a DUI checkpoint to be considered legal, it must adhere to various regulations. If any of these regulations is not observed in detail, then the entire operation may be deemed illegal. The precise requirements for each checkpoint may vary by jurisdiction and numerous other factors, which is just one more reason why it makes sense to consult with a DUI attorney.
DUI checkpoints are often set up at times when law enforcement officials believe that drunk drivers are likely to be out in force. Events like New Year’s, the Super Bowl and the Fourth of July are all examples of times when you are more likely to be caught up in a DUI checkpoint.
Checkpoints are anything but spontaneous. An official typically begins planning a checkpoint a few weeks in advance so that all of the proper protocols can be observed. For instance, the official must show that setting up a checkpoint is logical and reasonable. This is because a DUI checkpoint is essentially an intrusion on your Constitutional rights. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that the welfare of the public outweighs the rights of the individual where drunk driving is concerned. Certain states disagree with this conclusion, which is why DUI checkpoints are not legal in these locations.
Where sobriety checkpoints are permitted, supervisory law enforcement personnel must be involved in the planning and the execution. This means that a couple of officers out on routine patrol cannot randomly set up a checkpoint. That would clearly be an illegal operation.
Further, law enforcement must take several steps to ensure a safe and orderly checkpoint. This typically involves using signs well in advance of the stop so that motorists are informed about what’s happening. The location of the checkpoint must be well lit, and all involved officers must be clearly identified as police personnel.
Law enforcement also must use impartial criteria for deciding which vehicles will be stopped for a closer inspection. For example, this may involve choosing to stop every third car or every tenth car. Regardless of how long the checkpoint is in place, personnel must not deviate from this criteria. If they do so, then the entire operation could be declared illegal.
Generally, the police also are required to advertise or publicize their DUI checkpoint. Signs may be placed along the road a few days in advance. Newspapers and local media stations may report on the plans. Law enforcement social media channels similarly may disclose the predetermined time and location of a DUI checkpoint. The theory behind this is that it gives motorists an opportunity of completely avoiding that stretch of road on the day and time in question. It is assumed that those who do not avoid the road are tacitly consenting to participate in the checkpoint procedure.
A good DUI defense attorney has a variety of options when it comes to showing that a DUI checkpoint arrest was illegal. Because these operations are usually carefully planned and executed, this is not always easy to do. However, a DUI lawyer with experience may be able to demonstrate that a sobriety checkpoint arrest is not as by-the-book as it appears.
For instance, there have been cases of individual police officers deciding to set up “unofficial” DUI checkpoints. These happen without the knowledge or participation of their supervising officers, nor are these operations publicized. Instead, an officer or two decides that they will reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road by targeting certain vehicles in an area where drunk driving is known to occur frequently. They may invent probable cause, such as driving without headlights, for pulling over the car. However, what they are really looking for is a motorist who is under the influence.
A shrewd attorney would have little difficulty showing this operation for what it was: an unauthorized DUI checkpoint. Similarly, it may be possible for a lawyer to prove that the arresting officers at a sobriety checkpoint failed to adhere to predictable criteria, such as stopping every tenth car. A lawyer may show by the records of the checkpoint that their defendant’s car was not the tenth car or that the officers did not stick to the every tenth car rule throughout the checkpoint. Either point may render the arrest illegal.
Proving the illegality of the checkpoint also may rest on the defendant’s other Constitutional rights. As an example, the police are not permitted to search the vehicle without having probable cause. If the lawyer can prove that there was no probable cause, then the arrest may be thrown out.
Showing that a DUI checkpoint arrest was illegal may require countless hours of research. That is especially true when a sobriety checkpoint appears to adhere to all of the rules. Still, law enforcement does make errors, and it is up to the DUI defense lawyer to uncover these mistakes and omissions. This is critical where drunk driving charges are concerned as the consequences of a conviction can be severe and long term. With so much at stake, hiring a competent DUI attorney is vital.