Are DUI/DWI roadblocks and sobriety checkpoints legal?

In Pennsylvania, you can be charged with a DUI after you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint and found to be under the influence of alcohol. DUI checkpoints are controversial, but they are legal in Pennsylvania as long as they are conducted properly. DUI checkpoints are stationary and well-marked and are conducted by law enforcement officers over several hours. The officers do not need reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle at a checkpoint. Instead, they must rely on a predetermined standard for who to pull over when people drive through the checkpoint. If you have been charged with a DUI after being pulled over at a DUI checkpoint, the legal team at DiCindio Law in West Chester is available to help.

How DUI checkpoints work in Pennsylvania

DUI checkpoints must be planned by police administrators and not by the police officers themselves. The police must advertise the DUI checkpoint in the media and with signs. The administrators must choose an objective standard to determine which vehicles to stop. For example, the administrators might decide that every 10th vehicle will be stopped or use some other objective standard.

When you drive through a DUI checkpoint, the police might stop you if you meet the predetermined objective standard. If you are stopped, you must roll down your window to talk to the officer. He or she might ask you if you have been drinking. If you say yes, or if the officer makes observations that lead him or her to believe that you have been drinking, you might be asked to move forward to the second area of the checkpoint. Once you are there, you will be asked to perform field sobriety tests.

Under Pennsylvania law, you have the right to refuse the field sobriety tests and the preliminary breath test, which are tests that are performed at the roadside. You also do not have to answer questions other than requests for your license, name, insurance, and registration. If you are asked other questions, you can politely refuse to answer. Do not give any information beyond your basic contact details without talking to an attorney. Anything that you say to the police can be used by the prosecutor in the case against you. If you are arrested, you will be asked to submit to a breath or blood test. Unlike the field sobriety tests and the PBT, you do not have the right to refuse these post-arrest tests. Refusing to submit to a breath or blood test will result in a suspension of your license and other penalties. The prosecutor will also be allowed to use your refusal as evidence against you at trial.

If you can avoid a DUI checkpoint lawfully, you can do so. For example, if you see a sign for a checkpoint ahead and have an opportunity to turn off of the road onto a side street or into a parking lot, you can do it. The officers will not have any reason to stop you for legally turning around or turning onto a side street. However, they might still try. However, your attorney might successfully get any charges thrown out if you were stopped merely because an officer had a hunch that you might be driving drunk but has not developed reasonable suspicion to support the stop.

Are DUI checkpoints constitutional?

In Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court held that DUI checkpoints are constitutional and are not illegal searches and seizures. The court held that DUI checkpoint stops are lawful because the public’s interest outweighed the intrusion of the stop.

In Pennsylvania, DUI checkpoints are allowed under 75 Pa.C.S. § 6308(b). This statute authorizes police to stop vehicles either during a systematic program or when they have reasonable suspicion to believe a violation has occurred. Since the statute includes a reference to a systematic program, this statute has been interpreted as giving legal authority to establish DUI checkpoints in Pennsylvania. The state will have the burden of proof that the checkpoint was conducted constitutionally, however.

When is a DUI checkpoint legal?

For a DUI checkpoint to be legal in Pennsylvania, the police must adhere to guidelines that have been created that govern how the checkpoint must be established and conducted. To determine whether a specific checkpoint was legal, the court will look at how intrusive it was and whether the police followed specific procedures in a non-discriminatory way.

When a DUI checkpoint does not fully comply with the guidelines, an experienced DUI defense lawyer will file a motion to suppress all of the evidence that was gathered. Your lawyer might look at the following factors to determine whether the checkpoint and stop were constitutional:

  • Whether your stop was brief or lengthy
  • Whether the public was notified in advance of the checkpoint
  • Who was involved in deciding to set up the checkpoint
  • The statistical information and documents that were used to decide to conduct the DUI checkpoint at its location
  • Whether there is evidence that the checkpoint had prior administrative approval
  • Whether the police followed an objective guideline for determining which cars to stop
  • How the police conducted the checkpoint
  • Why the officer decided to request SFTs
  • The names and employment affiliations of all of the officers who participated in the checkpoint

After reviewing all of this information, your attorney will be able to provide you with guidance about your options.

Get help from DiCindio Law

Being stopped and arrested for a DUI at a DUI checkpoint can be frightening. If you are facing charges, an attorney from DiCindio Law can help you by determining whether the checkpoint was conducted lawfully. Your lawyer can then talk to you about the best way to proceed. Contact our law firm today to schedule a consultation by filling out our contact form or calling us at 610.430.3535.

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