Your Rights and Responsibilities at a DUI Roadblock
One of the most fundamental Constitutional rules in criminal law is the reasonable suspicion rule. Generally, officers must have specific, articulable facts which indicate criminal activity before they may detain motorists. The Supreme Court has diluted this rule in recent years, most notably in 2014’s Heien v. North Carolina, but the rule itself remains intact.
Sobriety checkpoints are a major exception to this rule. If the roadblock is properly set up, as outlined below, officers do not need reasonable suspicion. They may detain motorists and conduct investigations based on nothing more than the motorist’s place in line.
Roadblock stops make DUIs more difficult to defend. So, it’s important that the checkpoint respects your rights and adheres to all legal requirements.
Individual Rights at a Checkpoint
DUI roadblocks allow officers to blatantly violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable stops. But checkpoints do not affect other individual rights, such as the right to remain silent.
Since this right remains intact, motorists need not answer questions at roadblocks. Even seemingly innocuous questions, like “please show me your drivers’ license,” are calculated to incriminate the motorist.
This right is also very broad. The Fifth Amendment allows people to not say anything, and it also allows people to not do anything, at least for the most part. In fact, motorists need not even roll down their windows when they reach the checkpoint officer. And, if officers investigate further, motorists need not perform field sobriety tests or provide breath or blood samples.
The do-nothing right has some limits. Motorists must obey basic commands, like “license and registration please.” So, if a driver has these documents ready, there is no need to interface with the officer. Additionally, there may be some consequences. For example, Florida has a refusal-to-submit law. If motorists refuse to provide chemical DUI samples, they may face additional criminal charges.
DUI Roadblock Requirements
Motorists also have the right to be free from “random” checkpoints. There is nothing random about a legal DUI roadblock. Motorists have responsibilities in these situations, as outlined above, and police officers have responsibilities as well. Some of these responsibilities include:
- Supervisor-Level Setup: Generally, the police chief, or someone very close to that status, must authorize the DUI checkpoint. This supervisor must also approve all operational details.
- Proper Signage: A DUI roadblock is not a speed trap. There must be sufficient signage which notifies motorists about the checkpoint. Furthermore, traffic cones or other traffic restrictions must start far enough away from the roadblock so that motorists have the chance to avoid the roadblock.
- Minimal Detention: As a rule of thumb, checkpoints cannot delay motorists for more than about twenty seconds. That includes both the time waiting in line and the time at the actual checkpoint. Longer delays are probably unreasonable.
- Neutral Formula: Officers cannot stop certain motorists because they “look wrong.” The formula must be neutral, such as stopping every third car. If officers independently develop reasonable suspicion, such as the venerable “I smelled marijuana smoke” justification, that’s a different story.
Any deficiency, no matter how seemingly trivial, may invalidate the checkpoint and therefore the arrest.
Contact a Tenacious Lawyer
Officers and motorists have rights and responsibilities at DUI roadblocks. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie criminal lawyer, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Home and jail visits are available.