It's holiday time, and that means checkpoints will rear their heads. Often termed a nuisance or killjoy intrusion upon our rights, they are a reality and they have to be dealt with. And hopefully, their existence serves as a deterrent to injury-causing enterprises such as driving under the influence.
In most states, DUI checkpoints are specially selected locations where law enforcement officers stop vehicles trying to spot drivers who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They are found to be in existence at late night or wee morning hours when most such operators are prevalent.
What about the constitutionality of such operations?
The question often arises in the mind of both lawyer and client as to whether such stops are infringements on individual rights or if they constitute unlawful searches or seizure violations. That question was unequivocally dealt with in a landmark case in the United States Supreme Court itself.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in Michigan v. Sitz in the year 1990. The High court ruled that DUI checkpoints did not constitute illegal searches and seizures. This lawyer doesn't agree, but the Court has ruled and until, and unless, such ruling is over-turned, drivers are stuck with it. The Court reasoned that the inconvenience or intrusion, if you will, was outweighed by the public's interests in discouraging and lessening incidences of drunk driving.
Where yours truly thinks the issue gets sticky is that officers at these locations often issue criminal complaints and citations for other offenses, such as drug possession, expired registrations, driver's licenses, tinted windows and defective tail lights.
Under Pennsylvania law, for example, you are allowed to avoid a checkpoint if you make a legal maneuver and are driving in a legal manner. Supposedly, an officer can't pull you over unless you do something illegal or on a hunch that you might be. Highly subjective! Remember that if you do stop and open your window and the police person can detect alcohol on your breath, then you will probably be given a portable breathalyzer tests at a second area. You must be very careful about refusing breath or chemical tests. The portable breathalyzer tests may be refused, but if you are taken to a police station, or you will lose your license for the refusal, even if you are found not guilty of the DUI itself. You must be maximally polite to the officer and you may reuse to answer questions. Many are routine and can be incriminating.
If the officer asks any questions, you can respectfully decline to answer. Answers to simple questions can get you in a heap of trouble.
I do not mean to be preachy, but it really isn't worth it to drive after imbibing even the smallest amount. It takes very little alcohol to push you over the .08 limit, regardless of weight or height. Even if you are under the legal limit, the ordeal of arrest and testing is unpleasant and traumatic, even with the nicest officers. The consequences of a DUI arrest are sometimes unfathomable and can destroy your whole life. Higher insurance is just the icing on the cake. Loss of driver's license, background checks on job applications, immigration impediments -- so much can happen. Of course, if you have the misfortune of being stopped, and arrested for DUI, call a skilled lawyer as soon as possible. The consequences can be minimized and all factors required to be proven can be carefully examined and negated by proper investigation and careful questioning at trial, or you may be eligible for a diversion program. That's when the extensive experience of your lawyer is a welcome commodity.
Stay safe! And enjoy your Memorial Day.