Several times a year, there are widely recognized holidays during which people are known to partake of alcoholic beverages – sometimes in excess. Whether it’s the Fourth of July or the night before Thanksgiving, major holidays are often accompanied by DUI checkpoints, which are random spots on the road where police officers are permitted to check for driver impairment. In the following, we will review some of the basics, so that you can be prepared next time you find yourself in such a situation.
To begin with, it’s imperative to understand that DUI checkpoints are in fact constitutional. There are a number of court opinions to back this up, but one oft-cited case is the 1990 Supreme Court decision, Michigan v. Stitz. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the majority, concluding that “the balance of the state’s interest in preventing drunken driving, the extent to which this system can reasonably be said to advance that interest, and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program.”
Though these checkpoints have been deemed constitutional by the highest court, there are still some basic guidelines police officers must follow in order to maintain the legality of DUI checkpoints. For one, as with any DUI traffic-stop, a search conducted by an officer must be reasonable. This means the location of the stop and the amount of time the officer takes to conduct the search must both be reasonable.
Additionally, the cop must have reason to believe that you, the driver, are intoxicated before requesting a breath-test. If no signs of inebriation are evident, the officer will most likely ask you a few questions and request your driver’s license and insurance papers. Once those tasks are complete, you will likely be on your way. However, if you do show signs of intoxication, or if you behave in a violent manner, the cop has the right to give you a breathalyzer or, in the latter case, to search your vehicle.
Police officers have the right to give a breathalyzer because what are known as implied consent laws. According to these statutes, all drivers give consent to a breath test the moment they choose to operate a vehicle on the road.
So what if you want to avoid the stop altogether? It should be made very clear that you are well within your rights to turn around once you realize you are on your way to a DUI checkpoint; however, police officers can choose to stop you if you decide to make an illegal U-turn or drive in such a way that indicates the possibility of a DUI. So be sure that, if you decide to get out of Dodge, you use legal means to do so.
Notice of Checkpoint
It should be noted that, in many states, a checkpoint must be publically announced before its implementation. Failure to do this could render traffic-stops unlawful and thus inadmissible. Additionally, failure to warn local courts of the increased flow of DUI cases could clog the local judicial system, leading to delays or even dismissals of various cases.
Each state has its own laws guiding police practices at DUI checkpoints and some states don’t even allow such checkpoints. In certain states, it is required that each and every driver is checked by a police officer, while other localities require every third driver to be interviewed. There are also state-specific limitations on the amount of time a person can be stopped. In all cases, the formula used to conduct the searches must be neutral.
The best, most sure-fire, way to prepare for a DUI checkpoint is to avoid drinking prior to driving. Though this has been said before, it bears repeating. To that end, you should also, at all costs, avoid driving while drunk with your children in the car. Not only does this endanger your kids, it can also result in a more severe punishment, should you be found guilty of a DUI.
If you have been drinking and are caught at a checkpoint, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney with experience in DUI law.