What You Should Know About DUI Checkpoints

One tool used by police departments in Pennsylvania to discover and arrest drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a DUI checkpoint. There are many questions about the constitutionality as well as the legality of DUI checkpoints, and this controversial method of stopping vehicles without reasonable suspicion in order to find and arrest drunk drivers involves many elements that may be challenged later in a DUI case. If you or someone you know has been arrested at a DUI checkpoint for driving under the influence in the Pittsburgh area, the experienced firm of Disney Law is here to help. Call or text Robert Disney at 412-999-5765 today to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney.


Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?


According to the U.S. Supreme Court, DUI checkpoints are constitutional and are not considered illegal searches and seizures. This is because the court determined that the public’s interest in taking drunk drivers off the road outweighed the intrusion of a traffic stop that lacks reasonable suspicion. Pennsylvania codified this decision into state law, which authorizes police offices to stop vehicles either during a systematic program like a DUI checkpoint or if there is reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


What Happens at a DUI Checkpoint?


A DUI checkpoint is planned by police administrators in advance and its existence must be advertised in the media ahead of time. As part of the planning, the administrators must decide on an objective, non-discriminatory standard to determine which vehicles to stop at a stationary, well-marked roadblock checkpoint. In addition, no physical searches are allowed as part of the stop. The checkpoint can last for several hours and must be stationed at a place where drunk driving is known to have occurred in the past.


If a car meets the predetermined standard, the police will stop the vehicle. The driver must roll down the window and talk to the police. The stop must be brief, and police ask questions like where the driver has been that evening and where they are going. If the driver admits to drinking or shows other subjective signs of intoxication, they are asked to move to the next section of the checkpoint. Other signs of potential intoxication include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, swaying, and the smell of alcohol in the vehicle or on the driver’s breath. If the driver shows no signs of intoxication, they are free to move through the checkpoint to their destination.


For drivers suspected of being under the influence at a DUI checkpoint, the next step involves the police requesting that the driver perform field sobriety tests or taking a preliminary breath test. Field sobriety tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, one leg stand, and the walk and turn test. It is important to remember that drivers have the right to refuse to participate in these tests at a DUI checkpoint as they do not fall under the implied consent laws for Pennsylvania drivers. If a driver fails the field sobriety tests, preliminary breath test, or refuses to participate they are arrested and taken to the police station for a chemical test.


Chemical tests do fall under the state’s implied consent laws and typically involve a test of the driver’s blood or urine. The results of this test typically take a couple of weeks, and if the test comes back positive for a blood alcohol content over the legal limit the state prosecutor will file charges against the driver. However, there are many ways in which the evidence gathered can be thrown out because the checkpoint failed to meet certain legal standards.


Is the DUI Checkpoint Legal?


For a DUI checkpoint to be legal in Pennsylvania, police officers must comply with a strict set of guidelines. Failure to do so could mean that any evidence gathered during the checkpoint stop for a DUI case could be thrown out at trial. Police must follow DUI checkpoint procedure in a non-discriminatory fashion, and this is determined by examining the following questions about the checkpoint:


  • Was the stop at the checkpoint short or lengthy?
  • Was the public notified in advance of the checkpoint?
  • What parties were involved in setting up the checkpoint?
  • What statistical information and documents were used to determine the particular location of the DUI checkpoint?
  • Is there any evidence that the checkpoint had prior administrative approval?
  • Did the police utilize objective guidelines to determine which cars to stop at the checkpoint?
  • How did police conduct the stop?
  • What are the names and affiliations of all police officers involved in the checkpoint?


Once these questions have been answered an attorney has a much better understanding of whether the police adhered to the proper guidelines for a legal stop.


You Need a Knowledgeable Defense Attorney


A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney should have experience handling cases in which a DUI checkpoint was used to identify and arrest a driver under suspicion for driving drunk. An experienced lawyer knows all the ways in which a DUI checkpoint may fail legal standards and will investigate every possible angle for holes in the state’s case. A DUI criminal defense attorney will be able to protect your rights and defend your interests throughout every step of the case, providing counsel during interactions with police and crafting the best possible arguments for your case. To learn more about all the ways that an experienced DUI defense attorney can help in your case, talk to our office now.


Call or Contact Disney Law Today


While DUI checkpoints are constitutional, the police in Pennsylvania do not always operate these stops legally. If you or a loved one was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after a stop at a checkpoint, it is important to know that you have legal options. To learn more about DUI checkpoints or to discuss your case with an experienced DUI criminal defense attorney, call or text Robert Disney at 412-999-5765 or contact us at Disney Law in Pittsburgh today to schedule a consultation of your case.