Sobriety checkpoints are commonly used to catch drunk drivers on holiday weekends. Another goal of these DUI stops is to deter people from drunk driving because of the perceived risk that they will go through a sobriety checkpoint. There has been a lot of debate about the legality of these stops, based on the First Amendment. Because of this, some states have declared sobriety checkpoints to be unconstitutional. Let’s discuss the status of sobriety checkpoints in Florida and your rights if you go through one.
What is a Sobriety Checkpoint?
A sobriety checkpoint is a predetermined location where officers stop drivers and evaluate them for any signs of drunk driving. At some checkpoints, every car will be stopped. At others, they may randomly select drivers to stop.
At a checkpoint, you may be asked to:
- Present your license, registration, and proof of insurance
- Answer questions about where you have been, if you have been drinking, where you are headed, etc.
- Take a breath test
- Take a field sobriety test
If the officer determines that you are driving under the influence, you will be arrested.
Breath tests are commonly used to determine a driver’s blood alcohol content. This test involves blowing into a small device that will read the alcohol level in your breath. The legal limit is .08% BAC. If your test shows you scored above that, you will most likely be arrested for DUI. Did you know, though, that numerous factors can lead to inaccurate BAC results?
- Certain medical conditions
- Mouth alcohol
- Device malfunction
- Improperly administered test
Field Sobriety Tests
During a field sobriety test, the officer will evaluate the driver’s physical behaviors for signs of intoxication. There are three main field sobriety tests, the walk and turn test, the one-leg stand test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test.
Some of the signs of intoxication that officers look for during these tests include:
- Inability to balance
- Inability to walk in a straight line
- Shakiness in eyes
- Inability to follow directions
- Slurred speech
Criticisms about Sobriety Checkpoints
Sobriety checkpoints are legal in 38 states, including Florida. However, there is a lot of debate about whether or not these stops violate our Constitutional rights.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. Probable cause is required to stop someone and conduct a search or make an arrest. However, with sobriety checkpoints, there is no initial cause. Instead, the drivers happen to end up in line for the DUI checkpoint and are subject to evaluation.
While the goal of getting drunk drivers off the road and preventing fatal accidents is a worthy cause, some officers are overzealous in making arrests. This may lead to individuals being inaccurately charged with driving under the influence.
Knowing your rights at a sobriety checkpoint can help you protect yourself.
You CAN turn around
Contrary to popular belief, you can turn around if you see a checkpoint ahead. However, you must ensure that you make a legal U-turn. You cannot break the rules of the road when turning around to avoid a checkpoint. If you do, it would give the officers probable cause to pull you over and question you. If you choose to evade a checkpoint, make sure you do so legally.
You have the right to remain silent
When you are stopped at a checkpoint, the officer may begin asking you questions about your night and plans. Not only is this a method to evaluate intoxication, but also opens up the conversation where you may incriminate yourself. All you are required to do at a sobriety checkpoint is provide the requested documents (license, registration, insurance) and take a breath test if asked. Technically, you do not have to even take the breath test, but refusal to do so will result in different penalties like license suspension.
You may feel uncomfortable refusing to talk to police, or may even feel that not answering their questions make you look more guilty. However, remember that anything you say can be used against you. Even if you are sober, it may be the best option to avoid answering questions.
Police aren’t required to give you a Miranda warning
It is especially important to remember your right to stay silent because the police will not remind you of this during a sobriety checkpoint. Miranda warnings are only required when a suspect is being interrogated. Sobriety checkpoints do not count as interrogations, and therefore do not warrant a warning.
You do not have to consent to a search
Police are only allowed to make a warrantless search for one of four reasons:
- The public is in immediate danger, or any qualifying emergency situation
- They are conducting a ‘protective sweep’ during an arrest
- Evidence is in plain view
- The suspect consents
Once you consent to a search, the police are within their right to obtain evidence against you that will hold up in court. If police ask to search your vehicle during a DUI stop, calmly state that you do not consent to a search.
What To Do After Being Arrested
If you were arrested at a sobriety checkpoint, you need to take immediate action. First, contact a criminal defense attorney. The sooner you take this step, the sooner your legal team can begin working on the strongest possible defense. Another essential thing to do is write down everything you can remember about the checkpoint and your arrest. Your memory made fade or become warped over time; detailing the incident immediately after the fact can help your case in the future.
At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., we will fight for you after a sobriety checkpoint arrest. If your rights were violated during the stop, we will get to the bottom of it. Give us a call today at (305) 330-1360 to speak with our Miami DUI attorneys.