Chances are that at some point over the holidays, North Carolina police will conduct sobriety checkpoints. These checkpoints are legal in most states, but that does not always mean police will protect your rights.
Despite the approval of DUI roadblocks by the U.S. Supreme Court, many feel they violate a driver's constitutional rights. It is important for you to know how far police can go if they stop you during a checkpoint. Understanding what is supposed to take place at a roadblock may help you avoid negative consequences.
Rules regarding roadblocks
Federal law places specific limitations on police actions during sobriety checkpoints. For example, those officers in the field cannot simply act at their own discretion but must follow the directions of a supervisor. Additional rules include the following:
- Setting up checkpoints at reasonable locations, such as where DUI accidents have occurred in the past
- Notifying the public when roadblocks will be in place
- Giving drivers ample warning that checkpoints are ahead
- Selecting cars in a prescribed order, such as every fifth vehicle, and not based on other factors, such as the race or sex of the person driving
If police pull you over out of sequence, it may be a case of discrimination based on the officer's assumptions about you.
Your rights at a checkpoint
Officers will wave vehicles through the roadblock, stopping cars periodically. If you are stopped, expect the officer to approach your vehicle and ask for your license and registration. The officer may chat with you, but he or she is actually scanning the inside of your vehicle and observing you for signs of impairment, such as red eyes or slurred words. You have the following rights during this time:
- Refusing to answer questions, especially concerning whether you have been drinking
- Refusing to submit to field sobriety tests
- Refusing to submit to a roadside breath test
Police may arrest you at this time, and you must submit to a blood alcohol test once you are under arrest.
However, if you display no evidence that you have been drinking, you may still end up facing violations such as driving without a seat belt, driving with an expired registration or equipment violations. In fact, police at sobriety checkpoints often cite more drivers for these infractions than they do for DUI. Whether you face a DUI arrest or a citation for another infraction, seeking legal advice as soon as possible is in your best interests.