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DUI Sobriety Checkpoints



In a DUI checkpoint (also called a roadblock), the police will stop particular vehicles at random on a public roadway to determine whether the driver is operating his vehicle under the influence.  Most often, these checkpoints are set up in high DUI traffic areas at times where drivers are likely to be DUI (such as holidays, late at night, close to bars, etc.).

DUI Sobriety Checkpoints

The Constitutionality of Roadblocks

According to the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in order to stop your vehicle and pull you over the police must have at least a reasonable suspicion that you committed or were about to commit a crime.  As such, you would think that DUI checkpoints/roadblocks set up to randomly test drivers’ sobriety would be unconstitutional. 

Unfortunately that is not true.  In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld properly conducted DUI checkpoints as constitutionally permissible.  The states’ interests, the Court reasoned, in reducing drunk driving outweighed any constitutional concerns that roadblocks may violate.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court gave sobriety checkpoints the OK, 10 state constitutions still found them to be impermissible.  That means they are not allowed and are never used in a small minority of states today (Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming).   In the vast majority of states, however, they are permitted and performed, though how they are conducted varies drastically from state to state.

If you have been arrested for DUI as a result of a roadblock or sobriety checkpoint, be sure to contact an experienced attorney in your state for more information on how the circumstances of your stop could affect your case.

What Are “Properly Conducted” Checkpoints?

The U.S. Supreme Court held DUI roadblocks to be constitutional, but only those that are properly conducted – with set guidelines and procedures.  Guidelines supposedly help to justify the intrusion on your right to privacy.  They prevent the police from just setting up roadblocks wherever, whenever, stopping whomever they wish.  The Court did not, however say exactly what these guidelines were.  Instead, they left it up to each State to create their own procedures, resulting in drastically differing DUI roadblock laws around the country.

DUI Checkpoint Guidelines and Procedures

When the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t expressly give their own guidelines, NHTSA took it upon themselves to create standards recommending procedures that the states could adopt or follow at their discretion.  The way DUI checkpoints are actually conducted in the field vary drastically from state to state, but listed below are NHTSA’s guidelines for sobriety checkpoints:

Some states require that a police supervisor determine who will be stopped.  Some require the guidelines that the police are to follow to be written.  Others require notice to be given to the public, either by posting signs or publishing newspaper warnings.  Whether it’s every car, every other car, or every 13th vehicle that is stopped, cars must be stopped uniformly at random to help deter police misconduct.

What to Expect At A Checkpoint

Most often, if you are driving through a DUI checkpoint, and you are selected, you will be signaled or waived to pull your car over for a random stop.  The officer will ask you for your driver’s license and car registration.  During this time you may also be asked questions such as where you are going or where you were coming from.  The officer will closely observe you and look for signs of impairment.

If he suspects you are impaired, it may be because you have physical signs – such as a flushed face, messy clothing, odor of alcohol on your breath, bloodshot and/or watery eyes, slurred speech, etc.  He will also look at the way you are handing him the documents he requested from you, as often impaired people have difficulty finding and producing their driver’s license and registration without fumbling.

If signs of impairment are observed, then the officer will suspect you are impaired and order you to exit your vehicle.  You then will likely be given roadside exercises, or a portable breath test.  If you “fail” the tests, or often even if you refuse to submit to them, you will be placed under arrest and taken to the police station.  You may then be asked to submit to a chemical test of your blood, breath, and/or urine.   Remember each state’s laws are different, so the described scenario above will vary from state to state.

Know Your Rights When At A DUI Roadblock

You do have to pull over, and when asked for your identification you must produce it.  If asked if you were drinking however, you do not have to answer.  You do not have to perform the roadside tests either.  Although you may not be told you have a choice as to whether or not you will submit to the roadsides or chemical tests, you always have the option of refusing. 

(Note, however, that most states have penalties for refusals, where your driver’s license will be suspended.)

It is important to understand that you can never be forced to incriminate yourself, and therefore the police cannot compel you to say or do anything that would help give them probable cause for your arrest.  You have the right to remain silent, and you should – because whatever you say will most likely be used against you. 

A lot of people think that honesty is the best policy – that if you admit to the police you had a couple drinks but are not drunk, that you will be OK.  You won’t.  The breath tests can produce invalid results, and you should never trust a machine to be as reasonable as you think an officer will be.

Roadblock cases are unique to other DUI cases.  The prosecution’s burden of proving your stop was a valid one involves establishing that the checkpoint complied with the local laws and guidelines.  Although there may not be as harmful of evidence against you (i.e, there is no evidence of any particular driving pattern indicative of impairment), you still should consult with an experienced attorney in your state for help in defending your roadblock DUI.

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