Under federal and state law in Pennsylvania, police officers can stop vehicles when they have a reasonable suspicion that the drivers have committed traffic offenses, are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or that they have committed other violations of the law. Police officers are allowed to investigate drivers whom they believe to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, they must also respect the constitutional rights of the drivers during traffic stops. DiCindio Law believes that it is important for you to understand the police officers’ rights as well as your own during a DUI stop so that you know what to do and actions to avoid.
What actions by police officers are allowed?
A police officer cannot stop a vehicle based on a hunch. Instead, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver may be driving under the influence or has committed some other type of legal violation. An officer can pull you over for a different traffic violation and subsequently develop a reasonable suspicion that you may be under the influence. In that circumstance, the officer can investigate both the reason for your original stop and whether you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police officers may do the following things when they suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol:
- Ask the driver about drug or alcohol use
- Ask the driver about his or her driving
- Ask the driver to submit to standardized field sobriety tests
In some cases, search the vehicle
- After developing probable cause, arrest the driver for a DUI
- Ask the driver to submit to a breath or blood test to check the blood alcohol concentration
While police officers have many rights to gather evidence and investigate what happened to build probable cause for a DUI arrest, they also have some limitations. Police officers must follow specific laws and procedures when they conduct stops and investigations. Your attorney might review the stop and investigation to make sure that the officer followed the correct protocols at all points.
SFSTs and BAC tests
Police officers have the right to ask you to submit to roadside tests when they suspect that you are driving while impaired. These tests are designed to help officers determine whether you are under the influence. However, you are not required to agree to take roadside tests and can politely refuse. If you do agree to take the tests, the officer must follow the standards that have been developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, officers commonly make mistakes when they administer the SFSTs. If your lawyer identifies mistakes made by the officer in how he or she administered the SFSTs, he or she might challenge the tests and the evidence gathered as a result of them. Like the SFSTs, you also have the right to refuse to give a sample on the portable breath test device at the roadside.
If you are arrested for a DUI and are asked to submit a blood or breath sample for chemical testing at the police station, jail, or hospital, Pennsylvania’s implied consent laws state that you do not have the right to refuse those tests. If you do, you might face stiffer DUI penalties and driver’s license consequences.
Your rights at a DUI checkpoint
DUI checkpoints are legal in Pennsylvania. However, multiple laws govern how the police can establish them and operate them. A skilled DUI defense lawyer can review the actions of the officers to check whether they followed the laws governing DUI checkpoints in Pennsylvania.
While officers need reasonable suspicion to stop drivers in most cases, they do not need to have reasonable suspicion to pull people over at checkpoints. Instead, the officers stop drivers using a predetermined method of random selection. For example, the officers might stop every 10th vehicle. If you are stopped at a DUI checkpoint, the officer can talk to you, check for signs of intoxication, check your license and insurance information, and glance inside of your vehicle. Most drivers decide to submit to the interaction so that they can go on their way.
If you do not want to answer the officer’s questions, you can assert your constitutional rights to remain silent, to refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle, and to have an attorney. You will still need to provide your license, insurance, and registration information, however. If you choose to assert your rights or decide to comply with the officer’s investigation, make sure that you are polite. If you refuse to participate in the officer’s investigation, expect that you will likely be placed into custody. If you do choose to comply with the officer’s investigation, the officer may ask you to submit to field sobriety tests if he or she believes that you are driving while impaired.
Avoiding DUI checkpoints
Under the law, checkpoints must be planned in advance and must be published. Leading up to a checkpoint, the police must have clear signs to notify drivers. If you see signs warning you of a checkpoint ahead, you are legally allowed to turn off of the road onto a side street. However, making a U-turn is not advisable. If you do that, you will likely be stopped.
Talk to an attorney at DiCindio Law
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you should get legal help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Working with a knowledgeable attorney might help you to secure a better outcome for your case. A lawyer at DiCindio Law can review how the police conducted the stop of your vehicle and the subsequent investigation. If the officers made mistakes, your attorney can challenge the admissibility of the evidence against you. Request a consultation today by calling us at 610.430.3535 or by filling out our contact form.
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes to the law that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments or the most complete legal issues for all cases These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.