Driving under the influence is a major problem in the United States. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, over one-third of all drivers involved in fatal collisions had alcohol in their systems. Alcohol reduces the judgment and increases the reaction times of drivers behind the wheel. To help reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths, some states have implemented police checkpoints. Whether this is an appropriate measure is a matter of debate.
Under the auspices of finding intoxicated motorists, police in some states will block certain roads, pull over one motorist out of some number of motorists that travel through the checkpoint, and detain the motorist to ascertain whether they have been consuming alcohol. Such conduct may seem to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz.
Even so, only 38 states conduct DUI checkpoints. Officers are using sobriety checkpoints in an effort to crack down on intoxicated motorists. Officers in 12 states are unable to conduct these checkpoints, either due to statutory or constitutional prohibitions.
Prior to setting up a DUI checkpoint, officers will technically notify the public of the pending checkpoint. The location and nature of these checkpoints receives no significant media attention, so motorists will not normally know in advance of a sobriety checkpoint. Motorists concerned about a possible checkpoint should either search online for private services that compile these notices or use a mobile phone app that updates daily.
Officers conducting a sobriety checkpoint will normally block the road and funnel all traffic through one specific lane. There will usually be an opportunity to turn down a road or turn around before the checkpoint, although officers will often perform a traffic stop on vehicles that exercise that option. The officers will not detain every motorist; instead, the officers will count vehicles and stop every so many vehicles. Departmental policies and the location will determine how many vehicles are stopped.
Once a car is stopped, the officers will attempt to ascertain whether the driver is intoxicated. In practice, officers can and will treat the stop as they would any other stop. Drivers will be expected to provide identification and registration information. Motorists detained at sobriety checkpoints have all the same rights as any other detained motorist; they are not required to answer any questions, make any statements, or cooperate with the officer’s attempts to fish for other violations.
In most states, drivers must provide a breath or blood sample upon being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. DUI attorneys reminds us that refusal to do so can lead to the DMV suspending the driver’s license of the person arrested. Arrested motorists should refuse to answer any questions, although their state’s implied consent laws may require the motorist to provide a blood, breath, or urine sample.
In all cases, individuals arrested at a sobriety checkpoint should contact an attorney as soon as possible. A conviction for driving under the influence can lead to loss of employment, heavy fines, increased insurance costs, and a criminal record. A local attorney experienced in representing defendants accused of driving under the influence can help the judge, the jury, and the prosecutor understand increasing and decreasing intoxication rates.
Sobriety checkpoints are a controversial subject. Drivers who are detained at a checkpoint should exercise their right to remain silent and right against unreasonable search and seizure. Motorists arrested at these checkpoints should contact an attorney as soon as possible. A defendant who is not represented by counsel may be coerced into pleading guilty due to misleading test results and an overzealous police force.
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