DUI checkpoints have been in existence for over 25 years in various states. Proponents have argued that it has been effective in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities while opponents have and continue to rage against its constitutionality. Since law enforcement is normally barred from stopping a motor vehicle absent probable cause, the DUI checkpoint had to be construed as an exception to the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures. In 1990, the US Supreme Court did so in a split decision, ruling that such stops are akin to administrative detentions, such as airport searches, and serve a compelling state interest while being minimally intrusive.
Though such stops are constitutional, the Court allowed the individual states to rule otherwise based on their own state constitutions or its interpretation of the federal constitution. Subsequently, 12 states currently bar such checkpoints but California is not one of them. If you do come upon a checkpoint one night, here are some suggestions on how to handle yourself without inviting trouble but while protecting your rights:
- Be prepared ahead of time by having your license, car registration and insurance cards readily available. Police are looking for any sign of impairment and fumbling around for these cards is one of them.
- Turn off your radio. Police are annoyed if you are blasting your music and this may attract suspicion.
- Do not use your cell phone or text while waiting. Though not every car is stopped, being observed using your phone while driving may be a pretext for stopping your car.
- If you have a DUI Flyer, which is a leaflet advising officers that you will not answer questions, consent to a search or display your driver’s license, you risk a longer detention. The police do have a right at these checkpoints to look at your license, registration and insurance information. If you refuse, you will probably be ticketed for not having a valid driver’s license and unless you authorize someone with a license to come out and drive your car home, it will be impounded.
- You do not have to answer any questions. Police may or may not ask you if you have been drinking. Usually, they just request your identifying and vehicle information and ask if you are driving home or some other innocuous question to see if you exhibit slurred speech or act confused. You can simply state that you will not answer questions. If you did not stumble for your identification, do not slur or seem confused or dazed, then you will probably be on your way regardless of your stated refusal to answer questions.
- If you happen to say you had a drink or appear tired or out of sorts, then you may be asked to move your car to another location. You must comply and should do so politely. If you are asked to perform any field sobriety tests, you may politely decline and be within your rights to do so.
- Should police ask you to blow into a portable breath device, called a PAS or preliminary alcohol screening device, you can also decline without risking loss of your driver’s license since there is no legal requirement that you submit to this.
- If an officer begins to question you about where you were this evening and how many drinks you had, you can decline to answer.
- Police cannot request that you submit to a breath or blood test unless they have probable cause to believe you were driving while under the influence. While you can legally decline to answer questions, perform coordination tests or blow into to PAS, the officer can refer to your demeanor, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or confused behavior as signs of impairment that constitutes probable cause. Refusing to submit to this test can result in a one year suspension of your driving privileges.
These suggestions remind you of your rights if stopped at a DUI checkpoint or for a DUI in general while also recommending that you conduct yourself peacefully while asserting your rights. Police officers do know the law and will generally not give you any problems if you exercise your rights so long as you display no indicia of intoxicated or drugged behavior and are otherwise cooperative. Of course, the best course of action is to allow someone else to drive if you plan to drink or do not drink at all.
If you have any questions about this article, do not hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Omar Gastelum and Associates.