DUI checkpoints are a common sight on the roads of Pennsylvania - especially around holidays and other times of high enforcement. Many drivers are unaware that they have important legal rights which can be violated at a DUI checkpoint. Learn more about your constitutional rights, so that you can protect yourself during all interactions with law enforcement.
Which Constitutional Rights Are Implicated By a DUI Checkpoint?
Chapter 38 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes makes it a crime to drive under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. This is the legal basis for DUI checkpoints and other law enforcement measures which target drunk and drugged driving. Because these are criminal offenses, drivers at checkpoints have the same constitutional rights as all criminal defendants. One important right is Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Drivers are legally protected from being forced to make statements to DUI checkpoint officers which would incriminated themselves. One of the most common ways this can occur is when an officer asks the simple question of whether the driver has been drinking (or doing drugs). Answering this question could incriminate the driver for DUI. Drivers are under no obligation to answer this question at a DUI checkpoint.
Another common problem for drivers at DUI checkpoints is illegal searches or seizures. These are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution. Before an officer searches a vehicle at a DUI checkpoint, he or she must have probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of impaired driving (or another specific offense). Without probable cause, or a warrant, drivers are under no obligation to consent to a search of their vehicles by law enforcement officers.
What Should Drivers Do at a DUI Checkpoint to Protect Their Constitutional Rights?
The most important step a driver can take to ensure his or her safety at a DUI checkpoint is to be polite and courteous. Many of the recent high-profile police interactions have been sparked by a heated exchange which got out of hand. Always remain in control of your emotions and speak respectfully to law enforcement officers - especially when you are declining to answer questions, consent to a search, or otherwise forfeit a constitutional right.
Be aware that police are allowed to ask for identification at a DUI checkpoint. This should be produced without hesitation or argument. Officers may also ask if there are any weapons in the vehicle, in order to ensure their own safety. Always notify police about any weapons you may be in possession of. Beyond this, however, drivers are not obligated to answer questions about being intoxicated, or other criminal activity. Politely decline to answer any such questions without a lawyer present. Politely decline any requests to search your vehicle without a warrant. Drivers may also decline to give a blood or breath sample without a warrant, but it is important to realize that driving privileges will be suspended as a result of this refusal. Section 1547 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes states that every driver who uses the public roadways of Pennsylvania is deemed to have given consent to having blood or breath tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs. Refusing to submit to such tests results in a twelve month suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license (or eighteen months under special circumstances).
Consult with an experienced Scranton DUI defense attorney if you have any questions about an interaction with law enforcement.