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 setup 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 a 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.
Law enforcement in all 50 states are tasked with keeping drunk drivers off the roadways. To accomplish this important goal, they use a variety of sobriety tests to measure a driver’s level of inebriation and to determine if the person should be placed under arrest. Learn more about the tests used for drunk driving and what you can expect if a police officer pulls you over and gives you a sobriety test.
Field Sobriety Tests
Police officers have a variety of tests available to them to determine if you are driving while intoxicated. They can use a simple breath test or a more in-depth HGN, or horizontal gaze nystagmus, test that requires you to perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for inebriated motorists.
The most common field sobriety test utilized by law enforcement officers involves blowing into a DUI breathalyzer device. This device measures the amount of alcohol vapor that is present in your breath. It gives a relatively accurate reading of your blood alcohol content, or BAC, and lets officers know if you are above or below the legal limit for safely driving a car.
Along with using a breathalyzer, police officers can also administer a horizontal gaze nystagmus test to you in the field. This test monitors the involuntary jerking of your eyes as you gaze from side to side. If you are inebriated, the jerking of your eye will be more pronounced or exaggerated, indicating that you might be above the legal BAC limit.
If you fail the nystagmus test, you might then be asked to take another drunk test that could involve walking in a straight line and then turning around without falling over. The officer might also ask you to stand on one leg while holding your arms out straight to your sides. If you fall over or stumble, you could be placed under arrest on suspicion of DUI.
Police departments can also determine if you are drunk or under the influence of other substances by taking a blood or urine sample for you. They can also test your hair follicle for the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
However, because officers want to remove inebriated motorists from the roads quickly, many prefer to use the standard alcohol breathalyzer test. This alcohol blow test is accurate 85 percent of the times and can give a fast result to police officers in charge of keeping the public safe from inebriated drivers.
Consent for Testing Laws
Can you refuse to take a BAC test in the field? What would happen to you if you do not comply with the officer’s request that you submit to a breath test, HGN test, or another kind of DUI test without a lawyer present?
Unfortunately, you may not fare very well if you do not follow the police officer’s request that you undergo field sobriety testing. In fact, all 50 states have consent laws on the books that stipulate that you comply with DUI testing even if you do not have a legal representative with you.
Drivers in all 50 states give their implied consent to such testing when they apply for and obtain a driver’s license. They may not realize that they are giving consent when they get their licenses; nonetheless, they are bound by this implied consent law if or when they are pulled over and asked to go through testing for drunken driving.
Moreover, you can be incur any number of legal punishments if you refuse to take a drunk driving test. Many states punish people’s refusal to do a field breathalyzer test by suspending their licenses for a minimum of 30 days. Other states even hand down short-term jail sentences to people who do not want to be tested in the field for possible inebriation.
Enforcing these penalties is easier today thanks to technology. In the past, officers had to get a paper warrant from a judge to compel people to go through testing for inebriation. By the time they got the warrants, the subjects of their investigations had sobered up, forcing the officers to release them without testing them first.
Now, police departments issue patrol officers smartphones that are capable of receiving electronic warrants. It now only takes a few minutes to get a warrant that mandates a suspect comply with testing.
Even if you still refuse testing, you still have legal rights that must be protected by law. One of those rights allows you to hire a DUI lawyer to represent you throughout your entire case.
Why Hire a DUI Attorney?
Why should you hire a DUI lawyer from the very onset of your legal case? Refusing to take a test in the field can bring with it punishments that could negatively impact and complicate your life. At the very least, you could have your licensed suspended for 30 to 90 days. If this is not your first offense for refusing testing, you could see it suspended for as long as six months to a year depending on what state in which you live.
Further, you could have to serve up to six days in jail and pay monetary fines to the court. These punishments mean that you cannot drive yourself to work or school. You also have to take time out of your life to serve your jail sentence as well as money out of your paycheck to pay your fines and court costs.
If you have a good reason for refusing the test, you should hire a DUI lawyer who can provide those reasons to the court and ask the judge to lower or drop the charges against you. For example, if you are pregnant, you may not have been able to safely comply with the officer’s request that you stand on one leg or walk in a straight line without toppling over. Despite the fact that you may not even have been drunk, you likewise may not have physically been able to carry out those tasks because of your pregnancy.
Likewise, if the results of your tests may have been skewed or impacted by other factors, you should allow your lawyer to prove those circumstances for you in court. DUI field and breath tests can be thrown off because of:
- body temperature
- device temperature
- poor machine calibration
- the weather like high winds that are difficult to stand in
- the glare of headlights or pebbles on the shoulder that caused you to trip or stumble
All of these factors can skew or compromise the results of your test and cause a police officer to believe that you are drunk when in fact you are sober. Because the law allows you to have the test results examined more thoroughly, you should hire a lawyer who specializes in DUI law to review those results and find information that could prove your innocence.
Your attorney can also step in from the first day of your case to ensure that all of your legal rights are protected. For instance, you do not have to undergo questioning without a lawyer present. You also have the right against illegal searches and seizures, which organizations like the ACLU contend is violated with field sobriety testing.
If your lawyer finds any discrepancies in your testing or the way that you were treated after you were arrested, he or she can go to court and provide that evidence to the judge. You may have the charges against you lowered or dropped.
Law enforcement officers can use a variety of tests today to tell if you are driving while drunk. You should learn how these tests are carried out in the field and what rights you are entitled to by law if you are detained and arrested on suspicion of DUI.