It is an all-too-common scenario – you are traveling on Braddock Road in Fairfax headed towards EagleBank Arena when, out of nowhere, you approach a “sobriety checkpoint.” As you approach, your heart may begin to race as questions and concerns flood your mind – will that half-glass of wine I had with dinner make me blow a 0.08 in a Breathalyzer? What questions do I have to answer? What questions do I have a legal right not to answer?
These are perfectly legitimate questions and the objective of this article is to help you understand your legal rights if you find yourself in this situation.
Sobriety checkpoints are utilized by Virginia law enforcement to identify individuals who are drinking while driving. The objective is safety. If police can identify a drunk driver at a checkpoint, it reduces the risk of that drunk driver causing an accident and harming themselves and others.
During a sobriety checkpoint, motorists are briefly detained and interviewed. A motorist displaying signs of potential intoxication are asked to perform a sobriety test.
Virginia Law Concerning Sobriety Checkpoints
DUI/DWI checkpoints are legal in the Commonwealth. However, there are specific rules that law enforcement must adhere to when conducting a DUI/DWI checkpoint. For example, the location of the checkpoint needs to be announced to the general public before a checkpoint can be established.
Supreme Court Declares Sobriety Checkpoints Are Constitutional
The constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints was litigated in 1990 in the landmark case of Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990). The argument against DUI/DWI checkpoints was based upon a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. A search conducted by a law enforcement official is generally deemed reasonable when an officer has probable cause. However, at a DUI/DWI checkpoint, officers do not have individualized probable cause for each stop. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held, by a 6-3 majority, that DUI/DWI checkpoints are constitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The Court reasoned that the seizure is minimally intrusive and the “needs of the state” to prevent drunk driving outweighed the minimal intrusion that was forced upon citizens.
Limitations on Police
Police are required to minimize the delay for each vehicle that passes through a checkpoint. For example, they are generally not allowed to stop each and every motorist passing through the checkpoint. Instead, they briefly detain every fourth or fifth motorist for questioning.
What To Do When You Approach a Sobriety Checkpoint
A common question asked by motorists is whether they are allowed to display a message on your car window that excuses you from actually having to answer questions from law enforcement while at a DUI/DWI checkpoint. The message generally states the following:
“I remain silent. No searches. I invoke my right to an attorney.”
Please be advised that this will not work at a DUI/DWI checkpoint in Virginia. A valid checkpoint is a lawful and you may be required to provide your license and registration.
What Generally Takes Place at a Sobriety Checkpoint
It is important to understand that if your vehicle is stopped at a checkpoint, you are not automatically suspected of being intoxicated. Instead, your behavior and appearance will be observed by police and assessment of probable cause will take place. If the police officer believes you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will be asked to move your vehicle to the side of the road for further questioning.
Police may have a reasonable suspicion that you are intoxicated if you show any of these signs:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Watery eyes
- Erratic driving behavior
- Slurred speech
- Smell of alcohol on your breath
Tips on How to React at a DUI/DWI Checkpoint
Here are some general tips on how to react if your vehicle is detained at a Virginia checkpoint:
- If you have a video recorder on your cell phone, turn it on while waiting in line;
- Remain calm and cognizant of your surroundings;
- Do not speak;
- Come to a complete stop;
- Roll down your window;
- Provide the officer with your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance when asked;
- If you’re asked to step out of your vehicle, comply with the officer’s directive;
- If you’re asked to complete a field sobriety test – it is voluntary, you may politely refuse;
- If you’re asked to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) – it is also voluntary, you may politely refuse.
At this point the officer will either tell you you’re free to go or arrest you for DUI/DWI.
If Arrested, Contact an Experienced Fairfax DUI/DWI Defense Attorney
If you are arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence, contact the Dua Law Firm to schedule a meeting with one of our skilled and aggressive DUI/DWI defense attorneys. Someone charged with a DUI/DWI at a sobriety checkpoint has the legal right to contest the charges and the burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish your guilt. If you did not admit to drinking and driving and did not engage in a field sobriety test, then the evidence would be quite weak to establish that you were actually intoxicated. Even if you had bloodshot eyes, you could have simply been tired and not intoxicated.
The Dua Law Firm knows how to defend, advocate, negotiate and argue on behalf of our clients. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at (703) 382-7300. Our legal team looks forward to working together with you.