During a “Sobriety Checkpoint or DUI Roadblock,” the police stop vehicles according to a specified formula (i.e., every car, every second car, every third car, etc.) in order to discover drivers who may be under the influence. If you find yourself stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Pinellas County, you will be asked to produce your driver's license and registration. The police conducting the stop are trained to look for cues of drivers suspected of DUI and will be watching closely to see if you are fumbling to find the documents, have slurred speech, or if you are acting nervous or suspiciously. The police may also ask you to step out of your vehicle or pull you out of the line of traffic in order to conduct field sobriety exercises.
The law requires the location of any Pinellas County DUI checkpoint to be announced in advance. Theses announcements frequently appear in the St. Petersburg Times or on local news broadcasts. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office posts DUI roadblock news releases on the Internet in the days leading up to the planned checkpoints. Many drivers have begun using twitter and facebook to warn others about checkpoints, and one iphone application can even warn of roadblocks and speed traps as the driver approaches the area.
If I Haven't Done Anything Wrong, Can I Still be Stopped?
Yes. The United States Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court have ruled that DUI checkpoints are not a violation of your fourth amendment rights provided that certain standards are met. Detailed written guidelines on the precise operation of the roadblock must first be drafted by the police. The use of written procedures regarding the method of selecting vehicles, detention techniques, personnel assignments and towing/storage of vehicles are intended to limit the discretion of the officers conducting the DUI checkpoint. The courts believe that if such guidelines are properly in place and lawfully adhered to, there will be limited opportunity for abuse by law enforcement personnel.
In addition to having written guidelines, a DUI checkpoint must insure the safety of motorists by providing adequate lighting, warning signals and easily identifiable law enforcement personnel. Every effort must be made on the part of law enforcement to minimize the degree of intrusion and length of detention of the motorist.
Can the Police Pull Over Every Single Car at a DUI Checkpoint?
It depends on whether law enforcement has drafted their written guidelines to provide for the stop of every vehicle, every other vehicle, every third vehicle... and so on. The important consideration looked at by the courts is whether the DUI checkpoint personnel followed the written guidelines. A police officer therefore cannot make an arbitrary decision to single out any particular motorist that they wish to pull over.
If I am Not Impaired, Could I Still Get a Traffic Ticket or be Arrested?
Yes. If you are unfortunate enough to be selected at a DUI checkpoint you and your vehicle will then be subject to greater scrutiny by the police. This could translate into a traffic ticket for your failure to use a seatbelt, a burned out headlight, expired tag or other violations. Persons operating their vehicle with a suspended driver’s license can anticipate being arrested, despite not having consumed any alcoholic beverages. Those drivers with outstanding warrants will, of course, also be taken into custody. The odor of burnt marijuana or drug paraphernalia in plain view will lead to vehicle searches and arrests that are completely unrelated to the original nature and purpose of the DUI checkpoint.
What Could Happen If I Attempt to Avoid a Checkpoint?
Every DUI checkpoint has a police officer assigned to be the "chase car." This law enforcement officer is positioned in a strategic location that enables him to see if any motorist attempts to avoid the DUI checkpoint by making a last minute turn or detour. Such a deliberate action on the part of the driver to avoid the checkpoint will be interpreted by the police as evidence that the motorist knows that he is impaired and would fail subsequent field sobriety tests.
What Locations are the Police Likely to Select for a DUI Checkpoint?
- For safety reasons, the federal government prohibits DUI checkpoints on interstate highways;
- The police will often select locations near restaurants and bars that typically remain open later than other businesses.
- Most DUI checkpoints are operational late at night between the hours of 10 PM and 4 AM.
DUI checkpoints generate plenty of traffic citations and revenue for Pinellas County. If you do find yourself approaching an unexpected police roadblock, here are some tips to make sure your contact with law enforcement goes smoothly:
- Plan ahead and always know exactly where your license and registration are located and make sure they are accessible.
- Be polite, courteous and respectful. Do not joke around with the police or passengers in the vehicle with you. In fact, it is a good idea to warn other passengers in your vehicle that you are approaching a sobriety checkpoint and that you would appreciate their silence until your contact with law enforcement is over.
- Do not complain to the officer about the inconvenience of being stopped at the checkpoint. Produce your license and registration as requested timely and without question.
- Do not offer any additional information other than what the police officer may ask of you. Avoid discussing where you are going or where you have been.
A DUI charge stemming from a checkpoint or roadblock can involve the same potential consequences as a DUI charge resulting from an independent stop. However, there are numerous unique legal issues that may arise in a DUI case involving a checkpoint . Due to the legal complexities surrounding DUI roadblocks, a driver who is arrested for DUI at a checkpoint may have more potential defenses available. Therefore, if you have received a DUI after being stopped at a checkpoint, you should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible regarding your defense.
At Russo & Russo, we represent clients who are charged with a DUI arising out of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or another areas of Pinellas County. As experienced DUI attorneys, we will obtain and review the information regarding the role of every officer that participated in the roadblock, examine the checkpoint policies and guidelines that must have been in place in order for the stop to be lawful, and closely scrutinize the evidence that the State will rely upon to try and prove the DUI case.
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