If you've ever left a concert or sporting event and been surprised at the number of police officers you observe peering into cars with flashlights and badges in hand, you've probably experienced a sobriety checkpoint. These checkpoints are designed to curb drunken driving after live events where spirits are high and attendees may be feeling invincible after a few beers. However, to the intoxicated driver (or passenger who must then find an alternate way home), this can feel like entrapment. Read on to learn more about the laws surrounding sobriety checkpoints, as well as what to do if you find yourself facing charges after going through one of these checkpoints.
Are sobriety checkpoints constitutional?
Most state governments have addressed this issue, and have held that sobriety checkpoints, when properly implemented, are compliant with the law.
Although all citizens have a constitutionally-protected right of privacy when in their vehicle, you may be considered to have waived your right to privacy by attending a certain event when you knew (or should have known) that you would potentially be facing a sobriety check after the event. The constitutionality of a sobriety checkpoint hinges on this pre-event notice, which is discussed in further detail below.
What can you do to fight against a charge of DUI after you're stopped at a checkpoint?
The most successful defense of a sobriety checkpoint arrest is to invalidate the constitutionality of the specific checkpoint itself. There are several steps a police force must take in order to ensure that the sobriety checkpoint at which you were stopped was constitutional.
First, prior to the event, the police force must put out some sort of public notice that the checkpoint will be used at a specific date and time. This serves as a notification to all interested parties that, by attending the event or traveling through the checkpoint area at the designated time, they may be subjecting themselves to a field sobriety test and even a search of their vehicle.
Next, the sobriety checkpoint itself must be clearly marked, with signage visible from several cars back. There will be police officers outside at the checkpoint, either waving cars through or instructing them to stop and roll down their window.
If either of these notice factors are not present, you may be able to challenge your arrest on constitutional grounds. Even if it can be shown that you were operating your vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other impairing substances, if the checkpoint itself did not comply with constitutional notice requirements, the police had no legal right to stop you, conduct a field sobriety test, or place you under arrest.
If your constitutional challenge fails, you may also be able to fight against your DUI charge on one of several other grounds.
- Validity of breath alcohol reading
Many DUI cases are dismissed after a successful challenge to the validity of the results of your breath alcohol test. Your attorney may ask for documents from the police department certifying the accuracy of the alcohol testing device, as well as results of past accuracy tests. If the device used to conduct your breath test had not been checked or certified recently, your attorney can question its ability to accurately gauge intoxication.
- Accuracy of arresting officer's observations
Regardless of whether your blood alcohol testing results are deemed admissible, your attorneys may also choose to challenge the recollection of the officer who stopped and searched you. The court's decision will rest largely on this person's testimony, so invalidating or calling into question the officer's truthfulness can swing the odds of dismissal into your favor.