Law enforcement is tasked with keeping the public safe. To protect people from drunk drivers, police departments in many states occasionally set up stops where they can look for and arrest inebriated motorists.
Depending on where you live and travel in the U.S., you may at some point be stopped and detained at one of these sobriety checkpoints. Discover the primary purposes for them and what your legal rights are if you are detained at a DUI checkpoint.
An Overview of DUI Checkpoints
Law enforcement in a city or specific neighborhood may set up a police checkpoint during a time of the year or week when traffic is expected to be at its busiest. It is not uncommon to find a check point set up in an intersection or along a major highway during holidays like
- New Year’s Eve
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
when people tend to indulge in alcoholic beverages.
However, they also may set up checkpoints on city streets and highways during Spring Break or on weekends during which football games, homecoming dances, and other major sporting events and celebrations take place. They use these DUI roadblocks to look for drunk drivers of all ages and to administer tests like a Breathalyzer to people whom they suspect of being inebriated.
Depending on the state, the police may be required to use proper cause before stopping and detaining a driver. Some states prevent law enforcement from randomly stopping vehicles to search and question the people in them.
Other states do allow random checks at a DUI stop. In these locations, the police might pull over and search every 10th car that goes through the checkpoint. The legality of this practice remains highly debated among both the public and legal experts.
To protect people’s Fourth Amendment rights, some states have tightened the regulations by which these stopping points can be operated. Other states have outlawed them altogether.
The Legality of DUI Checkpoints
For the last two decades, lawyers and plaintiffs from around the country have raised the alarm about the legality of these checkpoints. They argue that law enforcement has no right to stop people without due cause and that randomly pulling people over to search their cars or administer field sobriety tests violates the Fourth Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with these arguments in 1990, ruling that the stops are legal and even supported by the U.S. Constitution. The justices argued in return that these checking points protected the interests and safety of the general public.
However, in a concession to state rights, the court agreed to allow each state to decide for itself whether or not to permit the set up and operation of checkpoints. While most states allow them, others have greatly restricted or outlawed them entirely.
The states that currently do not allow the use of DUI checkpoints are:
- Rhode Island
That is not to say that you cannot be pulled over, tested, or arrested for drunk driving in these states. However, police must have probable cause to suspect that you are drunk. They may watch for driving behaviors like weaving in and out of traffic, driving on the shoulder of the road, or frequent braking to determine the chances of you being inebriated.
Still, health and safety experts argue that these checkpoints have their advantages and definitely work to the benefit of the general public. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta compiled the findings of 23 individual studies, all of which proved that the frequency of drunk driving fell by almost 20 percent with the introduction and use of sobriety stopping points in many states. This fact alone supports the Supreme Court’s decision to allow them to continue as individual states see fit.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find DUI checkpoints near me. Local newspapers and media outlets will sometimes provide a free DUI checkpoint locator to alert the public about these checking points before the holidays or a busy weekend.
Sobriety Checkpoint Advice
What can you expect if you are pulled over and detained at a sobriety checkpoint? What should you do, how should you behave, and what rights do you have as a U.S. citizen?
First, if you are stopped at a checking point, do not panic or attempt to flee. Obey the officer’s directions to pull over and stop your car. Wait for the officer to walk up to your window and ask for your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and car registration.
Depending on the state in which you are driving, you may have to allow the officer to briefly look inside your car. He or she may do this by looking inside your windows while speaking to you or allowing a K-9 officer to sniff your vehicle.
If you are asked to get out of your car for a field sobriety test, remain respectful and obey the officer’s directions. Do not attempt to fight or argue with the officer. Follow the police officer’s directions for doing the field sobriety test. If you fail and are arrested, remember that as a citizen you have the right to hire a DUI lawyer when you reach the police station.
Why Hire a DUI Attorney?
Why should you hire an attorney to represent you if you have been arrested for drunk driving? After all, can you not just pay the fine or take a plea bargain to avoid or serve the least amount of jail time?
You could in theory show up to court by yourself or negotiate with the prosecutor’s office to take whatever bargain it wants to offer you. However, you may not know if that deal is genuinely in your best interest or reflective of the offense of which you have been accused. In fact, the prosecutor may not have any due cause to charge you with a DUI in the first place.
Most lay people do not know the specific laws regarding DUIs and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol in their states. They also may not know if the arresting police officer has been properly trained to administer field sobriety tests.
A lawyer can immediately take over your case and start reviewing the facts to determine if you were arrested with all due probable cause. He or she can read the police report, investigate the field sobriety test results, and decide if you were pulled over legally and if your rights were protected from the time that you were flagged to stop your car to the time that the police officer put the cuffs on you and took you to the police station.
If any of your rights were violated, your attorney can provide the evidence to the court and ask that the charges against you be dismissed. He or she may also be able to file counter suit against the prosecutor’s office or the police department.
Your lawyer can likewise ensure that the officer that administered the test was properly trained and interpreted the results correctly. If there is any question about the test’s legality or results, your attorney can argue before the judge and have the charges dropped or reduced.
Many states use checkpoints to stop and arrest drivers suspected of drunk driving. You can protect your legal rights by knowing in what states these points are commonly utilized. You also can learn how to behave and what rights you are entitled to if you are pulled over at a checkpoint.