The Legal Precedent
The legality of DUI checkpoints have been a point of contention since the Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that they were in fact a valid and legal method of law enforcement. Although the Fourth Amendment protects citizens of the United States from unlawful search by requiring probable cause, in a split decision, the Supreme Court determined that the danger of drunk driving outweighed the minimal intrusion of checkpoints on sober drivers. Certain estimates by the CDC say that sobriety checkpoints have the potential to prevent nearly 10% of all DUI related deaths annually.
However, just as the percentage of alcohol involved traffic fatalities vary by state, so to do state laws on DUI checkpoints. Via individual state laws, 12 have made DUI checkpoints illegal. Even though checkpoints remain legal in the remaining 38 states, there are still instances of opposition by those who believe they are a violation of rights. Last year, for example, Florida attorney Warren Redlich gain some attention in the media for creating the “fair DUI flier” which provided a method for getting a driver through a DUI check point without rolling down the window or even speaking to police.
While the combination of the fair DUI flyer and legal knowledge may have worked for Mr. Redlich, even he admits that it is not a viable strategy for everyone. Therefore it begs the question, what exactly are you rights at a DUI checkpoint?
DUI Arrests By State, Per 100k Residents (2015)
The Scope of Your Rights
According to Jarrett Maillet, an experienced DUI lawyer in Savannah who has been handling these types of cases for eleven years, there are a number of things you should keep in mind when approaching a DUI checkpoint, regardless of which state you are in:
- Whether you are reaching a checkpoint or getting pulled over, the police are going to ask questions and make certain evaluations based on your answers. You are not legally required to answer these questions, but not doing so could lead to more stringent evaluation or arrest.
- A broken light, dark window tint, suspicious car damage, or violating another traffic law in the process can all be red flags that attract more attention and give reasonable suspicion.
- Never lie. If the officers pry for answers, it is within your rights to say that you refuse to take any tests or answer any questions until seeking the counsel of your lawyer. By not lying and not confessing, you may save yourself from incriminating evidence down the road in court.
- Once questioning is over, ask if you are free to go. If you are asked to take a field sobriety test and do not comply, you may be arrested. While not ideal, this may prevent the creation of evidence that supports your arrest later in court.
- If you refuse to take a field test and are arrested, you will likely have your blood drawn when you get back to the station. Refusing a blood test usually comes with an immediate penalty. In the state of Georgia, refusing to take a blood test for your first offense can come with an automatic one year suspension of your license, with increasing suspension penalties per subsequent violation.
- Even with an affirmative blood test, there are defenses to your case. Any mistakes made by law enforcement personnel either in the collection of evidence or during your arrest can be grounds for dismissal.
DUI checkpoints represent a gray area of the law, but you still have certain rights if you are stopped and questioned. These are just some basic guidelines to follow that do not constitute legal advice, so it’s always best to check with a local attorney in your area for specific laws and statutes. Nevertheless, knowing how to handle yourself in the heat of the moment can be the difference between an arrest, losing your license, or going free. If you have any questions about finding the right criminal defense lawyer for you, read up on some good practices here or contact us today.