Sobriety Roadblocks and Checkpoints
What are sobriety checkpoints? A sobriety checkpoint is a tool that law enforcement use to evaluate random drivers for signs of drug and alcohol impairment. A sobriety checkpoint may be a stop on the road, freeway, or other public road. Law enforcement decides ahead of time what process to use when stopping vehicles (i.e. every fourth car is stopped). If you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, the officer may ask for your license and registration. They are primarily looking for signs of impairment. If they suspect that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they will perform a chemical test and may also employ field sobriety tests or conduct a drug evaluation.
Are sobriety checkpoints legal? In 1990, the United States Supreme Court declared that sobriety checkpoints did not violate citizen's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. They decided that when these checks are preformed with minimal intrusion under specified guidelines, the benefit of these checkpoints greatly outweighs the minor intrusion on individual's rights. Each state has adopted laws of their own regarding sobriety checkpoints. Currently, eleven states prohibit the use of sobriety roadblocks. The reason for not allowing these checks varies by state.
What signs of impairment are they looking for? The most common signs of impairment which are looked for during a sobriety checkpoint stop are:
• the odor of alcoholic beverages or drugs
• blood shot eyes
• the presence of alcoholic containers or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle
• slurred or difficult speech
• fumbling or other physical signs of intoxication
• admission of drug or alcohol use
• inconsistent responses to answers
• detection of alcohol by a passive alcohol screening tool
What are my rights if I am stopped a checkpoint? As with any routine stop, you are required to provide identifying information such as your name, address, driver's license, and registration. By law, you do not have to say anything. REMAIN SILENT. Anything you say could potentially be used against you. Admitting to drinking or consuming drugs (even in small amounts: “I just had one!”) can be construed as admitting guilt. DON'T SAY ANYTHING.
Most police officers will not tell you this, but you do NOT have to take field sobriety tests. Those are the one's where you have to walk a line, touch your nose, and do other similar stunts. These are designed for failure. You are not required by law to take these tests.
You ARE required, under implied consent laws, to submit to chemical testing of your blood, breath, or urine, at the request of an officer. These may be done, out of the flow of traffic, at the scene of the checkpoint, or you may be brought to a nearby facility for this testing. If you are not arrested after testing, you are free to leave and do not have to say anything.
Are there requirements about sobriety checkpoints? Yes, there are certain guidelines that law enforcement must follow to ensure that checkpoints do not qualify as unreasonable search and seizure. Each state uses its own specific guidelines. The following guidelines are offered by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration about sobriety checkpoints:
1. They must be part of an ongoing program to deter drunk driving.
2. They should have support from the judicial system (i.e. the district prosecutor)
3. There must be established procedures for how to properly operate a checkpoint.
4. The selection of checkpoints must be done in the interest of public safety and chosen for a specific objective (i.e. an unusual number of drunk driving accidents in that area)
5. Drivers should be sufficiently warned of an upcoming checkpoint.
6. Police presence should be obvious when approaching the checkpoint.
7. The logistics of chemical testing must allow expeditious transport of suspects to a chemical test site.
8. Any change in the original planning of a checkpoint must be well documented.
9. Detection and investigation techniques must be well-planned and standardized. These must be performed by qualified law enforcement. Investigation must take place without impeding the flow of traffic.
10. The public should be aggressively informed of sobriety checkpoints with ample warning so they can avoid them completely.
11. Feedback should be requested from citizens who are stopped to help determine if the program is effective.
If you have been stopped at a sobriety checkpoint and feel that your rights were not upheld or that you were unlawfully searched, you may wish to contact a qualified and experienced attorney who can determine your legal rights and options. If you were charged with drunk driving after a sobriety checkpoint investigation, you need the help of a competent attorney as soon as possible. Please contact a qualified and experienced attorney in your area.
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