As the holiday season approaches, police are stepping up their DUI patrols. This includes an increase in DUI checkpoints. When you hit the roads this fall and winter, it is important to know your rights during a DUI stop - whether you have been drinking or not.
Sobriety checkpoints and traditional DUI stops
Many people think that unless they are driving erratically, the police cannot pull them over. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Sobriety checkpoints, also known as mobile checkpoints or roadblocks, allow police to stop drivers without probable cause. While the Supreme Court has ruled that these checkpoints are legal, strict rules govern how police conduct these stops:
- Police have to announce the existence of a checkpoint in advance. Notification can happen via a newspaper ad, radio ad or signs that tell the public where the DUI checkpoint is and when it will start and end. If the police do not make advance notification to the public any charges against you for DUI or DWI should be dismissed.
- Checkpoints must be systematic, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory. Police officers must follow a prescribed pattern of stops. They cannot cherry pick, stopping cars based on discretion.
You have the same rights at a DUI checkpoint as you have at any police stop:
- You have the right to remain silent. The Maryland police may ask you where you have been, have you been drinking, how much did you drink and the like. You do not have to answer these questions. But, your refusal can cause them to become upset.
- You have the right to refuse field sobriety tests. While refusing a breath or blood test can have legal repercussions, refusing a field sobriety test does not.
- You have the right to an attorney - before taking a breath or blood test. While an outright refusal to take these tests can result in the suspension of your driver's license, requesting the presence of a lawyer is within your rights.
- You have the right to be free from an unconstitutional search or seizure. Your 4th Amendment rights are still in place during DUI stops - even those that occur at checkpoints. If police don't have probable cause to search you or your car, or issue field sobriety tests or a breath test, then they can't legally do it.
If you find yourself charged with a DUI, get legal help
If you are arrested for a DUI or DWI in Maryland, the best way to protect your rights is to contact an experienced lawyer. He or she will be able to determine whether any constitutional violations occurred during your stop that could help get your charges reduced or dismissed.