Police often pull over drivers as a suspected DUI (Driving Under the Influence) situation when they observe speeding, erratic behavior, or come upon the scene of an accident. In each of these cases, the law enforcement officer has observed a behavior which establishes reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired. DUI checkpoints, also known as sobriety checkpoints, result in a very different arrest because there is no evidence that any of the drivers who are stopped are in fact impaired yet they can be “searched” to determine if they are sober. Eleven states have made these types of checkpoints illegal, finding that it amounts to an illegal search and seizure. All other states, including Florida, allow for DUI checkpoints and these laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Elements of a DUI Checkpoint
The State of Florida adheres closely to the guidelines established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Under Florida law, a law enforcement agency which intends to establish a DUI checkpoint must have legal counsel establish a plan for the checkpoint which is approved by a judge. This plan must specify:
Where the checkpoint will occur
- The time span during which the checkpoint will be active;
- Which type of law enforcement members will participate in the checkpoint, i.e. members with specific training in DUI enforcement; and
- What type of law enforcement discretion is allowed.
Approximately 15 to 20 DUI checkpoints are conducted in Florida each month. While keeping impaired drivers off the road is the stated purpose of the use of DUI checkpoints, there is growing concern that these stops are not properly conducted and may cause innocent people to be arrested.
Defending a DUI Checkpoint Arrest
The defense against a typical DUI charge and an arrest which arises from a DUI checkpoint are very different. It is always important to hire an experienced defense attorney in either case, but with a DUI checkpoint arrest you must hire someone with attention to detail for this is where the defense lays.
The first thing a knowledgeable defense attorney will do is make a public record request of the lawyer representing the law enforcement agency. The purpose of this request is to receive a copy of the guidelines under which the checkpoint operated as well as any video record of the arrest. The defense attorney will first determine if the guidelines were valid, meaning did it contain all of the elements specified above. Next, the attorney will compare the guidelines with the video and other circumstances of the arrest.
If the attorney finds any deviation from the guidelines during the arrest he or she will file a motion to dismiss the case as it violated your constitutional right against unlawful search and seizure. Even if you failed the breathalyzer test or the blood tests later show drugs in your system, the case can still be dismissed if law enforcement acted beyond the scope of the guidelines for the DUI checkpoint.
These types of cases can be very complicated and require an attorney experienced in defending DUI checkpoint cases. While many attorneys represent DUI defendants, few have the expertise and attention to detail necessary to succeed in situations where the charges stem from a checkpoint stop. Who you hire to defend you is critical as it can mean the difference between jail time and freedom.