Normally, motorists have constitutional protections against unwarranted stops and searches while they're on the road. An officer can't randomly pull you over and start asking questions to fish around for evidence that you're driving while intoxicated on drugs or alcohol.
One exception to this general rule, however, is the sobriety checkpoint. Initiated by state law enforcement, sobriety checkpoints are usually put up around the holiday season (including New Years) to look for drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while they're behind the wheel.
Are Sobriety Checkpoints Really Legal?
While sobriety checkpoints have been challenged in various legal battles in different states, they've generally been declared legal as long as they are:
- Quick and don't impose too much of a burden on motorists
- Applied in an even manner without any attempt to "profile" certain drivers
- Obvious in their intent and limited in scope
In some states, sobriety checkpoints must be advertised in advance in order to be legal. It's also important to remember that officers are only allowed to ask very limited questions. They are not allowed to veer off-topic and cannot initiate a search of your vehicle or subject you to other testing or investigation without additional probable cause.
How Can You Protect Your Rights At A Sobriety Checkpoint?
The best way to protect your rights at a sobriety checkpoint is to keep in mind what you've already learned about how they are supposed to work and keep your wits about you. Use the following tips to make sure that you are treated fairly.
Pay attention to the way that officers are pulling people over for the stop. Make certain that they are not targeting certain types of drivers over others for the stop. If so, try to document what is happening with your camera or with notes on your phone.
You do not have to answer any questions about what you have been drinking or where you have been. Remember that is illegal to lie to a police officer during an investigation (and a sobriety checkpoint is an investigative procedure), but it isn't illegal to simply decline to answer. That forces the officer to rely on other things—like the odor of alcohol on your breath or slurred words—to get probable cause for any additional intrusion.
Don't try to evade the roadblock by turning around or getting out of line. That's a guarantee that you'll get pulled over. The police generally have officers watching for drivers that do that and will radio ahead to other officers who are waiting.
Finally, remember that you should never try to handle a DWI/DUI charge on your own. If you're charged with drunk or drugged driving after a sobriety checkpoint stop, talk to an experienced DUI attorney about your defense.