In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, DUI checkpoints are predetermined, fixed locations where law enforcement officers stop vehicles in an effort to find drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs. Usually these checkpoints are set up late at night or very early in the morning, since this is when police officers believe there will be a greater number of people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Are DUI Checkpoints Constitutional?
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of DUI roadblocks in Michigan v. Sitz in 1990. It determined that DUI checkpoints were not illegal searches and seizures. The Court deemed that the intrusion was justified due to the public interest in reducing the incidents of driving under the influence. These checkpoints were specifically permitted to detect DUI cases.
In additional to DUI charges, officers at DUI checkpoints issue criminal complaints and citations for other issues, such as drug possession, out-of-date registrations, expired driver’s licenses, tinted windows, and defective tail lights. Many lawyers and legal experts continue to believe that the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter was incorrect, since the fourth amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures – without making an exception for roadblocks.
What to Do If You Are Stopped
Under Pennsylvania law, you may make a legal U-turn or turn off onto a side road when approaching a DUI checkpoint. But what if an officer sees you doing it? Well, according to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, “[a]n officer’s mere hunch that an intoxicated motorist is seeking to avoid the checkpoint is insufficient.” In short, as long as you are making a legal maneuver and driving in a normal manner, the police cannot pull you over.
However, if you cannot legally drive around the DUI checkpoint, you may be stopped by the officer. You will have to open your window to speak to the officer and may be advised of the nature of the roadblock stop. If an odor of alcohol is detected, then you will be asked to proceed to the secondary staging area. In that area, the officer will request that field sobriety tests be performed.
If the officer asks any questions, then you can decline to answer. You can unintentionally incriminate yourself by answering seemingly routine questions. Above all, it s important to be polite to the officer during the exchange.
If the officer asks you to take a breath test or field sobriety test at the DUI checkpoint, Pennsylvania law gives you the choice of submitting or refusing. If the officer asks to search your car, you can also refuse this request.
If You Are Arrested at a Pennsylvania DUI Checkpoint
In contrast to the right to refuse portable breath tests (PBT) officers carry with them at checkpoints, you have no right to refuse chemical testing back at the police station. If you do, your license will be suspended for at least 12 months and up to 18 months. Worse yet, if you refuse the test and are convicted of a DUI, you will then be subject to the harshest DUI penalties.
There are many reasons why breath test results may be incorrect, such as improper usage of the test, incorrect machine calibration, and issues with your body physiology. To find out what are your options, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney as soon as possible.