April 26, 2019
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious crime that endangers everyone who shares the roads. If you are a driver, you may have experienced being sidelined by a DUI checkpoint. Officers may use checkpoints and stop every passing vehicle to screen drivers, or they may just stop some objective pattern of vehicles, such as every fifth vehicle.
Drivers who are stopped must produce their license, registration, and insurance information. During the stop, the officer may observe the driver’s behavior, and view the interior of their vehicle to see if there are obvious signs of alcohol or drugs.
DUI checkpoints have been used by law enforcement around the world for decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the practice originated in Scandinavia in the 1930s, and the United States adopted it in the 1960s. Checkpoints give law enforcement a hands-on method for addressing an ongoing and serious problem.
Despite the history and utility of checkpoints, their legality has been questioned. Under the law, people are protected from stops without probable cause. Additionally, under the Fourth Amendment, all people are protected from illegal searches and seizures.
What Is a DUI Checkpoint?
A DUI checkpoint is a temporary law enforcement operation that is also known as a DUI roadblock. Officers most often set up enforcement locations at night because statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show DUI accidents are 3.6 times more likely to occur at night.
Research shows that DUI checkpoints reduce the number of alcohol-impaired drivers on the road. Successful checkpoints incorporate the same important elements:
- High visibility;
- Extensive advance publicity;
- Officers stop cars at predetermined intervals; and
- Checkpoints are scheduled regularly.
DUI checkpoints can disrupt traffic as well as individual drivers trying to get from Point A to Point B. However, compliance with the instructions of officers is mandatory, and drivers should never attempt to avoid or ignore a checkpoint.
It’s All About Deterrence
Sobriety checkpoints and roadblocks are effective because they discourage drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. Checkpoints help reduce DUI arrests, and are an integral element of what the NHTSA considers High Visibility Enforcement. In fact, the NHTSA publication Countermeasures That Work explains checkpoints are designed to deter impaired driving, not to increase arrests. Authorities accomplish this because of the “perceived risk” of arrest.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports checkpoints don’t always result in a lot of arrests, and they are a viable deterrent when they are visible and publicized.
Some law enforcement agencies use checkpoints infrequently as personnel requirements and associated costs make DUI roadblocks prohibitive. Other authorities use lower-staffed flexible checkpoints, or combine with other police forces to reduce their costs.
What About Your Fourth Amendment Rights?
In the 1986 case State v. Jones, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision that a DUI arrest at a warrantless temporary roadblock was valid. The United States Supreme Court issued a similar holding in the 1990 case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz et al. The judicial decisions at state and federal levels have solidified Florida’s right to randomly check motorists for impairment, even when an officer has no reason to suspect a DUI crime.
The United States Supreme Court found checkpoints are constitutional based on balancing test guidelines established in an earlier case. The court weighed checkpoint effectiveness at preventing drunk driving accidents against the intrusion into a driver’s privacy. They determined that DUI checkpoints were substantially less intrusive than an arrest.
To ensure Florida’s checkpoint procedures comport with Fourth Amendment requirements, state law enforcement agencies follow Comprehensive Roadside Safety Checkpoints guidelines in the Florida State Highway Patrol Manual.
Are DUI Checkpoints and Roadblocks Legal in Other States?
States across the country have addressed the checkpoint issue with differing results. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association tracked each state’s DUI checkpoint policy and found:
- Most states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories the Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands regularly use DUI checkpoints.
- Thirteen states do not conduct roadblock operations.
- Michigan, Minnesota, and other states interpret DUI checkpoints as illegal under the US Constitution and/or their state constitution.
- Idaho and other states have laws specifically banning checkpoints.
- Checkpoints are legal in Missouri but the state does not allow financial support with public funds.
One Attorney’s Creative Idea For Fighting Back
Several years ago, a Miami-Dade County attorney decided to fight DUI checkpoints with a flier and silence. He recommended that when an officer stopped a driver at a checkpoint, the driver should keep their windows rolled up and place their license, insurance information, registration, and his pre-printed flier in their window. He also recommended that the driver remain silent. The flier said simply, “I Remain Silent. No Searches. I want My Lawyer.” He customized versions of the flier to reflect laws in different states.
The attorney has only limited feedback to document his flier’s success. One 2015 news story reported that the flier allowed some drivers to navigate a Florida checkpoint with no problem. More recently the attorney who originated the flier had to defend his own theories in court. The Coral Gables police charged him with a checkpoint violation for refusing to physically hand over his license. A Miami-Dade County Court upheld the conviction, and the attorney appealed his case. Other issues have arisen because when drivers remain silent, they fail to actively assert their Fifth Amendment rights.
How Do You Fight Back?
Unless or until Florida law changes or Florida law enforcement stops using checkpoints, drivers must accept DUI checkpoints as a fact of life. Before you encounter a checkpoint, consider these important tips:
- Don’t get upset.
- Remember that you don’t have to answer any question at a checkpoint. Tell the officer that you have a right to silence under the Fifth Amendment.
- You can choose to refuse a breathalyzer test but the officer might arrest you. Under Florida law, Florida licensed drivers give implied consent for a blood or breath test and refusal could lead to arrest.
- If an officer arrests you at a DUI checkpoint, contact Khonsari Law Group as soon as possible.
Call Our St. Petersburg DUI Lawyers for Help
If you are charged with a DUI crime, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The legal team at Khonsari Law Group work hard to get the best possible outcomes for every case. Contact Khonsari Law Group at (727) 269-5300 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.