DUI Checkpoints: What Are Your Rights?

D.U.I. Check Point sign

DUI checkpoints are part of life on the roads of Pennsylvania. You have rights when stopped by an officer at a drunk driving roadblock. If the police violate those rights, your DUI could get dismissed. Find out what your rights are, and how the criminal defense attorneys at Berman law can use those rights to protect your record from a drunk driving conviction.

DUI Checkpoints: The Exception to the Rule for Police Stops

Before most police traffic stops can happen, the officer must have a specific reason to believe that you (or your vehicle) have violated the law. This is called “reasonable suspicion” to perform the stop. In DUI traffic stops, this probable cause often involves swerving, driving too fast (or very slowly), or information related to other traffic laws such as broken tail lights or expired vehicle registration.

DUI checkpoints are the exception to the “reasonable suspicion” rule. Under Pennsylvania law, police can set up “suspicionless” DUI checkpoints if they meet certain criteria. That means the police don’t have to believe you have done anything wrong before they briefly stop you and check if you are driving drunk.

What are Your Rights at a Police Checkpoint?

The United States Constitution gives U.S. residents and citizens several rights when dealing with police, and that includes during “suspicionless” traffic stops. Knowing your rights ahead of time can prevent you from saying or doing something that will hurt your DUI defense later on. At Berman Law, we represent many people charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). We can help you defend your rights, and we want you to be armed with the knowledge of how to defend yourself as well.

Can You Avoid a DUI Checkpoint?

Pennsylvania police must post advance notice, including signs, for any DUI checkpoint. When you see those signs, you have the right to turn around, or avoid the roadblock. However, iff you choose to avoid a traffic stop, be certain to follow all state and local traffic laws while turning away. Otherwise, the police could have “reasonable suspicion” to stop you anyway.

How Long Can Police Make You Wait?

Any traffic stop must be brief. It can only last as long as necessary for the police to investigate whether the crime has been committed. At DUI checkpoints, that means getting the driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance, and investigating any signs of drunk driving (including the smell of alcohol or red eyes). Police cannot search your vehicle or its occupants without reasonable suspicion of a crime. If, however, the traffic stop does reveal reasonable suspicion (for example, the officer smells alcohol on your breath), the police can ask you to pull your vehicle over and do a more thorough traffic stop. They can even arrest you for drunk driving.

How Do Police Decide Who to Stop at a Police Checkpoint?

Police aren’t allowed to make spur of the moment decisions to set up a roadblock and “trap” unsuspecting drunk drivers. The “stop criteria” must be based on an objective standard set ahead of time by the police administration. While they don’t have to stop every vehicle, they can’t base their decision to choose your car on the officer’s individual biases or assumptions. The location must be based on a history of driving incidents in the area. The timing of the stop must also be scheduled ahead of time.

Do You Have to Answer the Police’s Questions at a Traffic Stop?

You have the right to remain silent at a traffic stop. While you are required to produce your identification and follow police directions, you are not required to answer the police’s questions. You should affirmatively assert your right to remain silent, though. If you are concerned about opening your mouth (giving police a chance to smell your breath), you may want to attach a paper to your window asserting that you will remain silent at all traffic stops.

Can You Refuse Sobriety Testing?

Your right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment includes the right to refuse sobriety testing. However, unlike other rights, asserting your right to refuse a breathalyzer or blood test has consequences. Pennsylvania, like many other states, has an “Implied Consent” law. Refusing that chemical test violates the implied consent law and can result in a suspension of your driver’s license.

Field sobriety tests (such as balance, spoken, or eye tracking tests) don’t fall under Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent laws. That means you can safely refuse these tests, making it harder for police to establish the probable cause they need to do a chemical test or arrest you for drunk driving.

What Happens if a Police Checkpoint Doesn’t Follow the Rules

Unfortunately, even though there are strict rules about Pennsylvania DUI checkpoints, police violate drivers’ rights at these roadblocks frequently. When they do, the criminal defense attorneys at Berman Law can use those violations to help protect our clients from DUI and DWI convictions. By filing pre-trial motions to exclude evidence obtained in violation of your rights, we can often remove vital proof (like the blood alcohol test results) the prosecutors will need to win their case.

Drunk driving is a serious charge with serious consequences. If you have been stopped at a DUI checkpoint and charged with drunk driving, you need an experienced defense attorney on your side to review the stop and the police’s actions, to find any defenses available to you. At Berman Law, our Media, PA attorneys represent drivers in Chester County, Delaware County, and Philadelphia County. Call 610-565-9696 or contact us online to speak with an attorney today.

Categories: Criminal Law, DUI

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