A host of DUI checkpoints were held across the state throughout the Fourth of July weekend.
Our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys suspect that throughout the course of these operations, many people could have overlooked the fact that in the course of being stopped and arrested, their rights may well have been violated.
The reality is, most people don’t know the extent of their rights in the event of a DUI checkpoint. This is understandable, as most people don’t expect to have to confront it. That’s why we want to make sure, both for those who are about to fight the charges as well as for future reference, that you understand your rights.
First, you should understand that checkpoints are governed by a very strict set of guidelines set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court. They have to be advertised in advance, the randomness of their procedures has to be offered up in writing prior to the operation, and they have to maintain that randomness throughout the course of the evening. Failure to do any one of these can result in the subsequent DUI cases being dismissed.
Secondly, understand that police are not allowed to search your vehicle at a checkpoint unless they either have probable cause to do so or you have granted them permission. If you have something in your vehicle you would prefer they not find, refuse permission to search and do so explicitly. This won’t necessarily guarantee they won’t search your vehicle, but it may provide ammunition for the defense later in the case to suppress certain evidence.
Thirdly, per the Fifth Amendment, you have the right to decline to answer any questions, aside from the basics of your identity. If an officer asks you how many alcoholic drinks you have consumed, whether you are coming from a bar or anything else you don’t wish to answer, simply say you don’t wish to answer or that you are exercising your Fifth Amendment right to silence.
Additionally, you are not obligated to undergo field sobriety tests. If you’re sober, it’s usually smart to go ahead and do them. However, if you’re not sober, the only thing you’ll be doing is potentially providing the prosecution with more evidence to use against you. Just say no.
Breathalyzers are a little trickier. There are penalties if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer, including, but not limited to, an automatic license suspension. However, an officer can’t force you to do it, mostly because your cooperation is necessary to get an accurate reading.
Blood tests are a bit different. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that police must obtain a warrant before they can force you to undergo a blood test. If that is not done, there is a strong chance the evidence could be dismissed.
Know too that in a lot of cases, police may arrest you and then soon consult with prosecutors to find that there isn’t enough evidence to try to convict you of a DUI. In this instance, they may try to get you to plead right away to some lesser offense, such as reckless driving. However, you should never accept a plea deal without first consulting with an attorney to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.