Some Advice about DUI Checkpoints

pittsburgh criminal defense attorneyAn attorney in Florida has been suggesting people do not have to speak with Police at a DUI Checkpoint, saying they only need show their License, registration, and proof of insurance. Here’s why that won’t work in Pennsylvania.

The first thing one must remember is driving is a privilege, not a protected constitutional right. By accepting a drivers license, you agree to whatever rules are in place in the state which issued the license. This includes an obligation to submit to a police request for a sobriety test while operating  a motor vehicle. In Pennsylvania, a refusal results in an automatic one year suspension of your driving privileges, whether or not you are convicted of committing of a crime.

Here in PA, sobriety checkpoints are constitutionally valid as long as they are administered in a non-discriminatory fashion. Acting in a belligerent manner when dealing with police in a routine traffic encounter can easily provide the “reasonable suspicion” to continue an investigation.

The ACLU offers a printable card to keep in your vehicle which outlines your rights in the event you are pulled over and/or arrested. Yet, even they point out, you have a right to refuse a vehicle search, but because driving is a privilege, the police have a right to perform vehicle searches without your consent. In fact, the refusal itself can lead to reasonable suspicion on the part of the investigating officer. After all, if you have nothing to hide, why refuse?

The best thing to do is cooperate. Asserting you “know your rights”, etc., can easily escalate the situation. The fact they can still search your vehicle despite your surety of your rights shows you probably don’t know your rights as well as you may think.

Blood Alcohol Level

Blood alcohol is only one of MANY factors used in a DUI investigation including 1) driving; 2) physical appearance; 3) demeanor; 4) observations such as fumbling or confusion; 5) observations such as bloodshot eyes and odor of breath; 6) time of day and location; etc.

So we see that, 1) DUI Checkpoints have been ruled constitutional provided they are applied evenly, and 2) under the agreement of accepting a drivers license, in order to determine level of impairment, the investigating officer needs to speak with and observe the reactions, etc., of the driver. Finally, by denying that, you automatically create ‘reasonable suspicion’ you are breaking the law.

You can be convicted of a DUI without a BAC report, based on your behavior and the testimony of the arresting officer. And the chances are, being recorded as being uncooperative or worse, belligerent, is going to weigh against you at sentencing.

If you do get arrested, you do have the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent, but you must calmly and clearly say, “I want my attorney present before answering any further questions.”

It helps a great deal if you actually have an attorney, as the Public Defender system is overloaded and the police know that. Without being able to answer their next question, “Who is your Attorney?”, you may find they don’t take you quite as seriously as someone who retains a Lawyer.

Frankly, in today’s increasingly litigious society, it makes sense to establish a relationship with an attorney in the same way one would a doctor or accountant. By retaining an attorney before you get in trouble, you are essentially buying insurance that you will not be on a month-long waiting list for a public defender with an already full caseload, who cannot really act on your behalf until you get to court, anyway. A retained attorney can help secure your release, get bail amounts reduced and speak for you when dealing with the police, long before you go in front of a judge.

You can read more about the Florida story as well as some opinions from my colleagues here in Pittsburgh, by clicking Here.

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