In light of word last week that DUI checkpoints would be setup in some locations throughout Lancaster County this past weekend, it seemed an appropriate time for an entry regarding common questions and issues that arise regarding DUI checkpoints.
While DUI checkpoints are highly controversial and seemingly suspicionless, unconstitutional searches, they are in fact constitutional. Under the Fourth Amendment, citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Therefore, no police officer is allowed to seize and/or search a person without, at least, reasonable suspicion that some criminal activity is afoot. Since police officers are clearly not establishing reasonable suspicion for every car they stop in a pre-planned Pennsylvania DUI checkpoint, you may believe checkpoints are unconstitutional. The United States and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts, however, have held that DUI checkpoints are an exception to this reasonable suspicion standard and, therefore, constitutional.
Despite having been ruled constitutional, in order to be legal, Pennsylvania DUI checkpoints must adhere to certain judicially created guidelines. For instance, the DUI checkpoint must be ascertainable from a reasonable distance or otherwise made knowable in advance; it requires prior administrative approval, rather than simply a hunch by a specific police department; the route and time selected for the roadblock be one which, based on local experience, is likely to be traveled by intoxicated drivers; and, the specific vehicles to stop must be fixed by some preplanned pattern (every fourth car, etc.). Com. v. Blouse, 531 Pa. 167 (1992). Believe it or not, it’s legal to make a LEGAL U-turn or turn off onto a side road when approaching a DUI checkpoint.
While police do not need individualized suspicion to stop your vehicle momentarily at the checkpoint, they do need reasonable suspicion that you are driving under the influence in order to detain you any longer for further testing or investigation. In other words, police will use their training and experience to look for indicators of intoxication, including glassy or bloodshot eyes, issues retrieving registration or license, an odor of alcohol, slurred speech, etc. If, in their opinion, they have reasonable belief you are under the influence of alcohol, you will be asked to pull over for further testing, which will include field sobriety testing and, potentially, a preliminary breath test. REMEMEBER, you do have the right to refuse this testing at the DUI checkpoint staging area. If, however, after the roadside testing you are placed under arrest and brought to the police station for a second breath test or brought to the hospital for a blood test, you do not want to refuse, as a refusal will result in an automatic license suspension of 1 year.
Many clients and friends have asked about the DUI checkpoint flyer designed by an attorney in Florida and whether it would work in Pennsylvania. Will this work in Pennsylvania? The answer is….maybe. The law does not require you to roll down your window at a checkpoint. As discussed above, however, once momentarily stopped at a checkpoint, police need reasonable suspicion, in order to perform any further testing. Are police able to meet the reasonable suspicion standard by other means, such as the manner in which you approached the stop, or that your eyes are bloodshot or glassy? Maybe. Are you drawing unwanted attention to yourself at a checkpoint, where, typically, it would be better to fly under the radar? Definitely. While you may later have a suppression issue in court, it seems you are certainly drawing more attention to yourself and, therefore, increasing the likelihood of further investigation, and, of course, increasing the chances you are charged with a DUI. A DUI charge and arrest alone, even if later determined to have been an illegal stop or arrest, can cause extreme embarrassment, loss of employment, and thousands of dollars in legal fees.
If you have been arrested in Lancaster, PA for a DUI, it is best to contact an aggressive and affordable Lancaster, PA DUI Lawyer immediately.