According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), sobriety checkpoints, also known as “DUI checkpoints” are set up by law enforcement to check drivers to see if they are driving while intoxicated or impaired. Many jurisdictions across the nation use DUI checkpoints as a part of their larger anti-drinking and driving campaign.
Because of the questions over their “legality,” not all states allow for DUI checkpoints. Some states have enacted laws that authorize DUI checkpoints, while other states strictly forbid them. Then, there are states that are silent on the legality of them.
As of this writing, 38 states conduct DUI checkpoints and California is one of them.
What are my rights at a DUI checkpoint?
Every driver has constitutional rights. These rights don't go out the window during a DUI checkpoint. In order to take advantage of your rights, you have to be familiar with them.
The most prominent of your rights in a DUI checkpoint is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, which is in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Sobriety checkpoints are unique in that unlike a typical traffic stop, law enforcement can stop you without reasonable suspicion. While some people dispute the constitutionality of DUI checkpoints altogether, currently they are legal, and seen as a way to reduce the amount of DUI accidents.
Many people are waved through the DUI checkpoint and do not have to stop. If your vehicle is chosen to stop, law enforcement will ask you to roll down your window enough to speak with them. They will be looking for indications of drunkenness, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol.
They may ask you a few questions and then send you on your way, or they might detain you.
It is important to know that police cannot lawfully search you or your vehicle unless they have probable cause to do so. For example, a police officer might stop an individual as a part of a DUI checkpoint.
If they notice that the driver's eyes are bloodshot, they might ask them to submit to standardized field sobriety testing. Now, there are many reasons other than intoxication that a driver's eyes might be red, but this could be a reason law enforcement uses to justify a search.
Your Right to be ‘Let Go’
Law enforcement is required to let you go unless you are being detained, so be sure to ask, "Officer, am I being detained?" They should be able to say yes or no, but sometimes they give an ambiguous answer to keep the driver there without formally admitting that they are being arrested or detained – usually because they know they have no real reason to arrest or detain the driver.
Remember, you have the right to remain silent. This is a Fifth Amendment right that you can exercise to avoid saying anything self-incriminating. While you should be respectful to the police officer and comply with their requests, you have the right to respectfully say to the officer, "I'd like to exercise my right to remain silent."
If you were arrested at a DUI checkpoint, contact the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. today for a free case evaluation.