Police in Pennsylvania sometimes set up DUI checkpoints to try to catch people who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you see a checkpoint in Chester County, you might think that you must drive through it. However, avoiding a DUI checkpoint is not illegal as long as you do so in a legal way and before you enter it. Here is some information about DUI checkpoints and avoiding them from a West Chester DUI lawyer at DiCindio Law.
Avoiding DUI checkpoints is legal
In Commonwealth v. Scavello, 734 A.2d 386 (Pa. 1999), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that avoiding a DUI checkpoint does not provide reasonable suspicion for the police to stop your vehicle. In that case, the driver completed a legal U-turn to avoid a checkpoint before he entered it. He was then stopped by a police officer for avoiding the checkpoint. The officer then found that the driver had been drinking and was a minor and charged him with a DUI and underage drinking. However, the Supreme Court found that legally avoiding a DUI checkpoint did not provide reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle as long as the defendant did not commit any traffic violations when turning around and had not entered the sobriety checkpoint before trying to avoid it.
If you spot a DUI checkpoint before entering it, you can lawfully turn around or turn off in a parking lot or side street to avoid it if doing so is safe. However, the police watch for people avoiding DUI checkpoints. An officer might follow your vehicle and watch for you to commit any type of driving error to have reasonable suspicion to pull you over based on that and then investigate you for a DUI.
If you do violate a traffic law when you turn around, an officer will likely pull you over. Officers can pull people over when they have reasonable suspicion that they have violated a traffic law, and committing a traffic offense to try to evade a DUI checkpoint would qualify.
Are DUI checkpoints legal?
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court found that DUI checkpoints are constitutionally protected as reasonable searches and seizures in Michigan v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). The court found that even though the police do not have to develop reasonable suspicion before stopping people at DUI checkpoints, the benefits to the public outweigh the constitutional harms. This decision means that the police are allowed to stop you at a DUI checkpoint when you move through it. Police officers typically set up DUI checkpoints so that vehicles are guided through them. It is often hard to avoid a DUI checkpoint once you have spotted it.
What rights do you have at a DUI checkpoint in Chester County?
If you have no other choice but to drive through a DUI checkpoint, you should remember that you still have constitutional rights. You do not have to answer any questions beyond giving your name. You also do not have to consent to the officer’s request to search your vehicle. When the officer signals for you to pull over, follow his or her directions. Have your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card ready to hand him or her through the window. While you might feel nervous, do not think that you can talk your way out of being arrested if you have been drinking. It is best not to say anything that could potentially incriminate you, and the police can and will use the statements you make against you if you are charged with a DUI.
The police might try to convince you that you are required to consent to a search simply by being in a DUI checkpoint. However, this is not true. Politely refuse and ask for them to get a warrant before they can search your car. You might also be told that you must submit to the standardized field sobriety tests and blow into a portable breath test device at the side of the road. However, you are not required to perform the SFSTs or submit a PBT sample. Be respectful and polite, but do not allow the police to coerce you into doing things that could be incriminating.
If you are arrested, the state’s implied consent law states that you do not have the right to refuse chemical testing of your blood, urine, or breath. However, the breath testing that is performed post-arrest is done with a machine at the police station and is not the PBT. When you are taken into custody, assert your rights to remain silent and have a criminal defense lawyer represent you.
How to avoid being arrested at a DUI checkpoint
There is one sure way to avoid being arrested for a DUI at a checkpoint after you have been out for a night of drinking. Instead of getting behind the wheel of your car, ask the bar or restaurant for permission to leave it parked in the parking lot overnight. Call a cab or use a ride-share app to hail a ride and get you home safely. You can always take a ride-share car the next day to retrieve your car. Taxi or ride-share fares are much less expensive than fighting a DUI charge.
Get help from an experienced West Chester DUI lawyer
If you have been arrested for a DUI after driving through a DUI checkpoint, that does not necessarily mean that you will be found guilty of the offense. With the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law, you might be able to successfully defend against the case filed against you. Your attorney can carefully analyze how the DUI checkpoint was set up and operated to determine whether any mistakes were made. If you turned around and were stopped, your attorney will review whether the police had reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle. Contact us today to request a consultation by calling DiCindio Law at 610-430-3535.