While traveling around the Orlando area, especially during weekends or holidays, you may notice police conducting random “sobriety checkpoints.” You may have even be stopped yourself. But can the police really do this? After all, if you are just driving down the street and there is no evidence that you are violating traffic laws or committing a DUI, what right do the police have to stop you?
DUI Checkpoints and the Courts
Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court and the State of Florida have long held that DUI sobriety checkpoints do not necessarily violate a person’s constitutional rights. While the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution normally protects citizens against warrantless searches by the police, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception to this rule in a 1990 decision. The Court found that “the state’s interest in preventing drunken driving” outweighed “the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling did not mandate DUI checkpoints, mind you, but rather left it up to the states to decide for themselves. About a dozen states currently ban sobriety checkpoints, but Florida is not among them. However, the Florida Supreme Court does require all law enforcement agencies to adopt “written guidelines” before implementing a sobriety checkpoint. These guidelines “should cover in detail the procedures which field officers are to follow at the roadblock,” including the random selection of vehicles, how police should conduct the stop itself, and appropriate public notice of the time and location of any checkpoints.
It is important to note the checkpoint must be “random.” It is illegal for the police to deliberately target certain groups–i.e., only pulling over African-American or Hispanic motorists–or to stop such a high percentage of cars as to make the checkpoint a total roadblock.
Your Legal Rights at a Sobriety Checkpoint
So what happens if you are stopped at a legally established DUI checkpoint? Remember, while sobriety checkpoints may not violate your Fourth Amendment rights, you still retain your right to “remain silent” under the Fifth Amendment. In other words, if a police officer at a checkpoint asks if you have been drinking, you do not have to answer. Nor can the officer actually search your vehicle without your consent or first obtaining a warrant from a judge.
The officer may look for other evidence of DUI, such as whether your breath smells of alcohol or there is an open container of beer in plain view. If the officer has “probable cause” to suspect DUI, you can be asked to take a Breathalyzer or a field-sobriety test. If you refuse such tests, your driver’s license will be automatically suspended under Florida’s “implied consent” law.
Have You Been Arrested at an Illegal DUI Checkpoint?
There are many cases where Florida law enforcement do not properly conduct a sobriety checkpoint. If you have been arrested and charged with DUI, it is important to stand up for your constitutional rights in court. An experienced Orlando DUI defense attorney can help. Call the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at 407-377-0150 to discuss your case with a lawyer today.