DUI Checkpoints: Your Rights, Legality, and Charges
Pittsburgh often has road blocks in place used to identify drunk drivers. Over the years, there have been numerous questions asked about what happens to those who are stopped at these checkpoints which are specifically known as DUI checkpoints. Fortunately, there is a proven record that very few drivers who are actually stopped at these checkpoints are arrested for drunk driving.
- If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you must follow the orders for the law enforcement officers, including answering questions and providing your driver’s license and insurance information.
- You have the follow rights if you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint: the right to avoid the checkpoint, the right to decline answering additional questions, and the right to decline a sobriety test.
- DUI checkpoints are legal if they meet the following requirements: a quick DUI checkpoint, a sufficient warning provided to citizens that a DUI checkpoint will be in existence, administrative approval of all DUI checkpoints, and cars that will be stopped must be pre-established.
Your Rights at a DUI Checkpoint
Anyone who is stopped at DUI checkpoint should follow the orders of the law enforcement officers; including answering questions and providing your driver’s license and insurance information. Drivers who are stopped may receive criminal complaints or citations for issues not related to drunk driving including expired licenses, tinted windows, drug possession and registration problems or defective tail lights. However, you do still have rights if you are stopped including:
- Right to avoid – You cannot be stopped unless the officer has noticed another violation for making a legal U-turn or turning off on a side road to avoid going through the checkpoint. Unless law enforcement officers have a valid reason for stopping you (expired plates, broken tail light, etc.) they cannot stop you simply for avoiding the checkpoint.
- Answering questions – Legally, you are under no obligation to answer any questions beyond your name, address and providing information about your license and insurance. You may politely decline to answer any additional questions if asked.
- Sobriety tests – You are not required to submit to a sobriety test at a DUI checkpoint unless you are informed you are being arrested on suspicion of DUI. Once you are arrested, declining a sobriety test could mean you forfeit your right to drive for a period of one year.
Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?
There are numerous cases where DUI checkpoints have been challenged in court based on constitutionality. However, the courts have ruled numerous times that these checkpoints are in fact legal if they meet certain requirements which are:
- Regarding the stop – DUI checkpoint stops must be done as quickly as possible and law enforcement officers have no right to search the vehicle or the person.
- Warnings – Citizens must have sufficient warning that a DUI checkpoint will be in existence.
- Review – All DUI checkpoints are subject to administrative approval including the reason for the checkpoint, as well as the time and place of the checkpoint.
- Established stops – Law enforcement officers cannot determine which cars to stop. In fact, which vehicles may be subject to being stopped must be pre-established, such as every fourth car and this formula must be used consistently throughout the time of the checkpoint.
DUI Charges You Can Face as a Result of a Checkpoint
After a DUI checkpoint stop, you can face any of the same charges that you would face after any stop for a suspected DUI. However, unless the officer has cause to single you out for arrest, there are possible ways for your defense attorney to fight any charges. In Pittsburgh, you are facing charges based on numerous factors including how high your BAC is at the time of your stop. Some of the approaches to defend you include:
- Challenging the length of time of the stop
- Challenging the notification of the checkpoint
- Challenging the method used and whether it was applied in accordance with the rules established prior to the checkpoint being started.
- Whether you were singled out fairly for a field sobriety test based on other stops and tests administered
Keep in mind, if you are arrested and charged with a DUI after going through a checkpoint, you could be facing jail time, steep fines and a loss of your driving rights. It is important that you work with a criminal defense attorney who understands how the prosecution will present the case and whether they will accept an alternative solution such as attending alcohol education in lieu of a misdemeanor charge on your record.
Being arrested for DUI can be very frightening and if you are one of the people who have been arrested because of a DUI checkpoint, you have the same rights as anyone else who is arrested for a DUI. Drivers are not entitled to seek the advice of an attorney before agreeing or refusing a breath test or other testing allowed under PA law; however, your attorney may be able to challenge the results.